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Big bucks at stake in Mantecas salt fight with state boards
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A battle over salt levels in treated wastewater could end up costing Manteca residents and businesses hundreds of dollars a year if the city fails to prevail in its lawsuit against state agencies.

Manteca is meeting the current levels of 1,000 units of salt in electrical conductivity tests but the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board and other state agencies want it reduced to 700 units.

Salt is generated from agricultural run-off, underground water dumped into rivers, and from treated wastewater.

The only way to reach the lower level that the state is now demanding is through the use of an expensive reverse osmosis process that would add significantly to the cost of treating wastewater.

While the current salt levels pose no problems for fish and other wildlife in the Delta, it becomes an issue for municipal users such as Los Angeles that import water via the California Aqueduct for their domestic use.

 Several years ago the city got a ruling from the water quality agency to continue operating at the 1,000 unit level. But then in a subsequent year that was ignored and the state agency demanded the lower level of 700. They also gave the city five years to comply.

Manteca filed an appeal to the agency that they are allowed to do under water board rules. A year went by and nothing happened. They then filed an extension of that appeal. Under water quality control board rules once the second appeal expired - they are good for a year apiece - the agency doesn’t have to act.

The city has already prevailed in federal court to get the “five year shot clock” suspended while the appeal was being considered.

They are now going to the same federal court to see relief from the 700 unit rule.

The water board determines acceptable salinity levels in water based on various water basins throughout the state. The Delta - despite the presence of actual sea water in much of the Delta - gets a much tighter scrutiny due to the large exported water that heads south. Salt is naturally occurring in all water.

Phil Govea of the Manteca Public Works Department said other cities have appealed the ruling and prevailed in federal court including Tracy.

He noted Manteca is not alone and that a number of other cities are involved in litigation with the state over the issue.