Chloride in the Santa Clara River — Part II

Yesterday, we addressed the first two of three critical questions regarding chloride discharges into the Santa Clara River. As to the first question, we found that two-thirds of the chloride came from the drinking water supply, which often has a chloride level of greater than 100 mg/L – the regulatory level.
In addressing the second question, we identified that reverse osmosis is the only real choice for chloride removal. Its two great drawbacks are its cost – both the initial capital cost and the on-going operational cost – and the large volume of waste generated. It really is far from an ideal solution, but it is the best that today’s technology allows.
Today, we address the third question: Is chloride really a problem? No, says the USEPA, who have never established a primary or a secondary standard for chloride in drinking water. Yes, says the Regional Water Quality Control Board; they contend that chloride diminishes yields for certain crops – notably avocados and strawberries –in the fertile farm lands that line most of the Santa Clara River from Santa Clarita to the Pacific Ocean.
In short, the water is safe to drink, but not to irrigate crops, according to the RWQCB.
Agriculture is the main economic engine in this region, so this is a very important issue locally. And so far, the farmers have won the regulatory battle. But I seriously doubt that their argument is sincere. Here’s why:
Two important offers have been made to the RWQCB and the farmers to address chloride – and both have been rejected. First, the best way to address the chloride issue is at the source: the Sacramento River Delta. The Peripheral Canal would solve this issue – along with a myriad of other issues, as discussed in previous blogs. But the RWQCB lacks the vision or the will to deal with this “problem” directly.
The second – and I believe more telling – rejected offer is this: let us treat only the water you use for your crops. A far smaller quantity of water, much closer to the ocean, would dramatically reduce the cost. An infinitely reasonable proposal – rejected completely by the farming community. It leads one to believe that they are not really that concerned about chloride in the first place.
After all, these are the same farmers that have over-pumped the groundwater in the Oxnard plain, leading to sea water intrusion into their precious aquifers. That’s right: sea water, with 19,000 mg/L of chlorides! The real chloride villains are none other than the rapacious farmers themselves! And now they want other people to pay enormous sums to make trivial improvements in water quality.
As I noted yesterday, you should fully expect that these same farmers – and their allies in this battle, the environmentalists – will sue the CSDLAC as soon as a waste discharge pipeline plan becomes public. In truth, this has nothing to do with chlorides, and everything to do with land development. The anti-growth crowd is at it again.
In these days of bankruptcies of public agencies, does it make sense to spend public funds to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist – especially when the same people who insist there is a problem will fight endlessly to prohibit every solution?

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