What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate

Cameron Smyth Commentary

In recent years, our community has gone to great lengths to reduce chloride levels in the water we send downstream into Ventura County. First, we banned the installation of new salt-based water softeners, and then we approved a measure that expanded the ban to existing water softeners.

Now, the staff of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board wants ratepayers to swallow a 50 percent increase in our sewage rates in order to pay for the environmental review and design of a new $210 million treatment facility. That doesn’t even cover the construction costs or operations budget.

I understand the plight of strawberry and avocado farmers in Ventura County and the impact that elevated chloride levels have on their ability to water their crops. To some extent, I agree with the argument that upstream water users should bear the burden of eliminating chloride to protect their downstream neighbors. However, Santa Clarita residents are not the only upstream users. About half of our water supply comes from Northern California through the State Water Project.

By the time water gets to Santa Clarita, it has traveled more than 400 miles. That journey includes a trip through the San Joaquin River Delta, where it mixes with sea water, and through hundreds of miles of farmland.

In a recent article in The Signal, Dan Masnada, general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, estimated that about 80 milligrams of chloride is in every liter of state water before it ever reaches the Santa Clarita Valley. That’s more than two-thirds of the 117 milligrams per liter limit that has been imposed by the Regional Quality Control Board.

Asking Santa Clarita ratepayers to finance a new treatment facility is effectively asking them to foot the bill for removing chloride that upstream residents are putting in the water. I don’t believe that should be our responsibility. Unfortunately, the Regional Water Quality Control Board does not appear too concerned about placing the entire financial burden square on the backs of our community.

This is far more than unfair; it illustrates a problematic trend in Sacramento. More and more, unaccountable boards are being tasked with making important decisions on crucial issues with far ranging impacts on Californians. However, unlike elected legislators, they never have to come before the voters to answer for their actions. This is why I pursued legislation this year, Assembly Bill 2466, to give authority to the Legislature to review proposed regulations and make recommendations as to whether the regulations are consistent with the intent of the laws we pass.

As another example of this, the Department of Pesticide Regulation has decided to permit the use of methyl iodide as a fumigant for agricultural purposes, particularly on strawberry crops. This was done despite testimony from scientific experts calling methyl iodide “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” and finding that “adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”

So, while one agency wants to finance further chloride-mitigation efforts, another has given the green light to the use of an extremely hazardous chemical.

Since I was first elected, I have been working to create lines of communication between state agencies. Currently, they operate in a vacuum, initiating policies that conflict with and even jeopardize the missions or goals of other state agencies.

California is a dynamic state with increasing cross-pressures that make environmental conservation more complex. Without open communication between state regulators, we cannot uniformly address the challenges we confront.

For instance, the State Water Board should be adopting a uniform approach to chlorides so that all of the regional boards are responsible for lowering chloride levels, not just our region. And rather than asking Santa Clarita ratepayers for more money, the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District should put pressure on its Northern and Central California counterparts to reduce the amount of chloride they put in the water we use.

If they need legislation to make that happen, my door is always open.