Letter: Why ratepayers are stuck paying for perchlorate mess

The Santa Clara Valley Water District understands the
frustration that South County residents must feel when they see a
charge on their water bill associated with perchlorate
contamination.
Dear Editor,

The Santa Clara Valley Water District understands the frustration that South County residents must feel when they see a charge on their water bill associated with perchlorate contamination. You have had to endure the perchlorate problem for nearly a decade now, and your monthly bill is a reminder that the effects of the contamination and the cost of the response will be felt for many years.

We also believe that the polluter should pay. Although we took every step available to facilitate recovery of cleanup costs from polluters, including seeking state legislation, we were unable to recover the public funds spent. However, it’s important to remember that at the time an aggressive response to ensure a safe water supply and pursue clean up was important to the South County community.

Beginning immediately after the discovery of the perchlorate contamination in 2003, the district sampled almost 1,000 wells and provided bottled water to more than 1,500 families. We held community meetings and answered thousands of questions from concerned residents and business owners. We provided technical support to the affected cities, the county and the Perchlorate Community Advisory Group. We helped fund essential wellhead treatment for a perchlorate-impacted well in Morgan Hill. The many hours spent providing analysis and comments to the regulators undoubtedly helped expedite the long path to remediation.

Our goal was to recover all our costs associated with response to the perchlorate contamination. The district spent $6.9 million on the response effort, but was able to recover only $2.7 million.

Unfortunately, the recent article is incorrect in key facts about the perchlorate contamination issue. There is no closed session scheduled for Tuesday. Additionally, contrary to the article, the amount of district reserves legally available for response to water quality emergency situations is less than $30 million, not the $200 million asserted. However, that is moot in this case as our water utility reserves are designated geographically and South County reserves are at a deficit. There are no South County reserves available for this.

While the water district’s own efforts have been substantial, be assured that the effort helped to ensure that Olin is responsible for paying for the cleanup effort. Olin has already spent more than $30 million and may spend another $15 to $40 million.

We are here to protect the public interest in our drinking water supply. You have my assurance that the district’s commitment will not falter.

Beau Goldie, CEO, Santa Clara Valley Water District

Editor’s note: In an article published Jan. 7 “Olin extracts $2.5 million in deal,” the reporter received incorrect information from a source that the settlement between Olin Corp. and the Santa Clara Valley Water District would be discussed in closed session Tuesday. The settlement from March 2010 has been discussed in closed session before, but has never been addressed publicly by water district staff.

Also, in the water district’s 2010 Financial Outlook of Water Utility Systems it states, “Perchlorate costs were funded with Water Utility Reserves under the expectation that the responsible party would reimburse the district.” The district is asking that ratepayers pay the district back about $2.5 million over two years to reimburse a portion of its reserve fund.

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