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HOME SEWER RATES RISING HIKE TO PAY FOR CLEANUP AND TREATMENT.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

PALMDALE - Lancaster and Palmdale homeowners will see their sewer-service bills rise by $31 and $30, respectively, for each of the next three years to pay for cleaning up groundwater pollution and to improve sewage treatment.

In Palmdale, Los Angeles County Sanitation District 20's board voted Thursday to approve a rate hike that will push the rate for a homeowner from $71 per year to $101 this year. The rate will increase to $131 next year and to $161 the year after.

In Lancaster, Los Angeles County Sanitation District 14's board voted Thursday to approve a rate hike that will push the rate for a homeowner from $67 to $98 next year; to $129 the following year; and to $160 in the third year.

Both boards also approved a similar set of rate hikes in the fees for connecting new homes to the community's sewage systems. The rates will rise in stages from $1,780 to $3,190 over the next three years in both districts.

``I don't want existing ratepayers to think they are bearing the burden of development,'' said James Stahl, chief engineer and general manager for the sanitation districts. ``Existing ratepayers are not subsidizing new growth.''

Officials in both districts said the rates hadn't been raised in 11 years and need to be increased to address immediate concerns. In Palmdale the issue is groundwater contamination, while in Lancaster there is a problem with treated effluent overflowing onto Edwards Air Force Base.

``What else can we do?'' said Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts, who sits on the Lancaster district board. ``Give me an alternative and I'll buy into it.''

The Lancaster district is working on a $200 million plan to improve its treatment of its effluent to levels considered safe enough for human contact, such as swimming and fishing, and to expand the plant's capacity.

The Palmdale district is developing a plan to expand its plant's capacity and, although no decision has been made, that district will also look at tertiary treatment.

``We don't have an ocean to dump it in,'' said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, who sits on both sanitation district boards. ``We're in a closed basin. We're going to have to handle it in an environmentally friendly way.''

In Palmdale, the rate hikes will pay for the cleanup of groundwater contaminated with nitrates, a pollutant that can cause a condition known as ``blue baby'' syndrome among infants. Nitrates have leached into the underground water table from Sanitation District 20's decades-old practice of spreading treated sewage effluent on barren land to soak into the ground.

Nitrates in well water pulled from near the spreading grounds since 1990 have periodically tested above the state cleanup level of 10 milligrams per liter, and computer projections show that if things don't change by 2025, the level could reach 24 milligrams per liter. The natural or background level is 0.75 milligrams per liter, officials said.

In 2000, the state's Lahontan Regional Water Quality Board directed the sanitation district to come up with a plan to lessen its Palmdale sewage treatment plant's impact on groundwater.

Developing long-term solutions for treating and handling the sewer is expected to cost $100 million. In the short term, the groundwater cleanup is estimated to cost $15 million.

The district also plans to spend $3 million to set up a temporary disinfection system and spend $2.5 million on nitrate research. Operations and maintenance of cleanup and treatment equipment will cost about $1 million a year.

An environmental impact report will be prepared for the project and will outline possible alternatives.

The Lancaster district is planning to increase the capacity of its treatment plant from 16 million gallons a day to 26 million gallons a day. The water would receive so-called tertiary treatment, meaning it is safe for human contact such as swimming and fishing, officials said.

The Lancaster district's plan calls for acquiring 5,400 acres for storing treated sewage and using it on farm crops.

The land acquisition is strongly opposed by many area property owners. Opponents say the district is too quick to look at acquiring land on Lancaster's east side and has not fully explored other options.

The district should look at such options as expanding Apollo Park, which features three lakes supplied by water from the treatment plant, the establishment of wetlands and ways to increase municipal reuse, critics said.

Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743

james.skeen(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 14, 2004
Words:741
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