Santa Clarita Weekly: Interview with Lynne Plambeck, president of SCOPE and former member of the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency Board of Directors, on the Chiquita Canyon Landfill


Apr 20, 2024 - The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency is requesting testing by the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board to determine if the Chiquita Canyon Landfill is leaking leachate and other contaminants into the local water supply. A chemical known as PFAS was detected in the leachate at the landfill five years ago, the SCV Water Agency reported. But the landfill has not tested for PFAS since then. Stormwater runoff from the landfill is going into the groundwater and Santa Clara River. The landfill was notified by the Regional Water Board. It’s in violation of pumping stormwater into local waterways.


Sage Rafferty: All right, so I'm here with Lynne Plambeck, who is a former member of the board of the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency. And she is the current president of Scope. And Lynne, we had you on here because, you know, we've been talking about the Chiquita Canyon landfill, and we have a lot of questions. And we know you have the answers to a lot of these questions. So first off, I want to talk about the environmental impact. Has the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board begun their investigation into the Chiquita Canyon landfills, potential contamination of the Santa Clara River and groundwater supply?


Lynne Plambeck: Oh, yes, they have. And they've actually filed several, um, notices of violation and, uh, against the landfill. And they also denied them a permit to expand. So they're pretty concerned about it at the current time. And the reason they're concerned is because of this massive reaction that's going on inside it and creating a really lot of leachate, which was not happening before. And I don't know, is it okay if I explain what leachate is a little bit.


Sage: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Go ahead.


Lynne: Leachate is a liquid that's, um, formed in landfills. When you dump all that trash in there and it starts to decompose. And, you know, just like if you are out in your garden or your composter, you notice a lot of liquid in it. Well, that's what happens in a landfill, too. And normally there is a collection system that collects the leachate and um. Puts it into a place where they can pump it into a truck and and take it to a facility that will, uh, clean it. But in this case, what's happening? What happened was the reaction, which is very hot over 200 degrees, melted the leachate collection system because it was PVC. And so then all of a sudden they had this massive amount of leachate that was coming out the sides of the landfill. They would put a well down and it would explode into the air. It's pretty nasty. So, um, they were sort of trying to not. Tell anyone this was happening. But then the Air Quality Board did some inspections, and then everyone realized we had a really massive problem on our hands. So now they have formed a team. So it's just not regional water quality. They have a team that's led by the US EPA, and they have the air quality people on there, and they have regional water board and they have toxic control boards. So they're really taking a really close look at this now. So one of the problems with finding out whether water in the river is, has been affected is there are no monitoring wells in the river. So the regional board did order them in early March to put in a monitoring well in the river so they really can keep track of what's going on. But the most recent violation was due to the fact that they were pumping the water out of the retaining pond, or whatever pond they call it, and, um, right straight into the river. And you're not supposed to do that. You need something called a npdes permit to do that, where the regional board oversees what goes into the river to make sure it's clean. So they got into a lot of trouble for that.


Sage: Okay, so how will the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency ensure the safety of the water supply while the investigation is ongoing?


Lynne: Well, most of the wells from Santa Clarita Water Agency are upstream, so it wouldn't be an issue of them affecting the wells. The wells that would be affected are probably those that are agricultural, fills wells on new land and farming property, which are immediately immediately adjacent to the landfill. But people aren't being served by those that water. There are some wells that are over there by the Valencia Commerce Center in Castaic. However, um, those wells again are upstream from the landfill. But the Water Agency did proactive testing on their wells, and they didn't find any contamination from the landfill yet.


Sage: No. Okay, so what specific actions will the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board take to address the Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s violation of pumping stormwater runoff into local waterways?


Lynne: Well, that's a pretty big fine. I think they can. I don't know what the board will do, but that's probably a pretty big fine. Um, their notices always say you can be fined $70,000 a day, and I think they had the pump removed pretty fast for that notice, but, um, they're in some really big trouble already with other issues. So, um, I'm sure it's going to end up being a big fine, but it takes a while for them to go through that because it's a legal issue. So they have to it's almost like a court process. They have to give them the notice, and then they go and try to have a hearing and find out. Exactly how long the violation had been going on, and then they will, uh, give them a fine.


Sage: Okay, so what are some long-term solutions that are being considered to prevent future contamination from the landfill?


Lynne: Well, I don't know that there are any. They really don't know what caused this. We have some ideas. They said originally that, uh. If you mix metals and ash, you can have this kind of reaction. Now they've put a lot of auto shredder waste in that landfill. It used to be allowed. It's not allowed anymore. And of course, there was all kinds of ash from the Woolsey Fire. They allowed extra dumping to go in from the debris from the Woolsey Fire. And everybody had a lot of concern about that because, you know, what's next to Rocketdyne? And people thought, oh, was any of that ash radioactive? I don't know if it was tested or not.


Sage: So this trash is coming not just from Santa Clarita. It's coming from all over. Right?


Lynne: Right. All over LA and outside of LA County. So only 10% of that trash comes from our area, which to me, I think is really wrong. I think people ought to try to take the care, take care of their own trash because, um, it we've become a regional dumping ground. I don't know if anybody in the valley realizes that, but we are a regional dumping ground for all of Los Angeles County, and there's only essentially two landfills still open in LA County. One is sunshine and which is just south of us, and the other one is Chiquita. So we are getting a lot of trash from everywhere, and it's creating a huge problem.


Sage: Yeah. So how are the results of this investigation into the landfills contamination be communicated to the public?


Lynne: Well, the EPA is setting up a website that you can go to and find out what's going on. But also if you want to sign up for our newsletter, we report on it fairly often, and we inform everybody when meetings are coming up, like there's a community advisory, uh, uh, meeting. And it's an advisory committee that was set up by the county to keep people informed. Often it is a, um, chance for the landfill operator to really tell everybody his side of it. So sometimes you don't get as good of information as you might wish, but you can find out a lot of stuff from just being involved in that. And if you want to sign up for our newsletter, you could do it at, uh, scope org. That's our website and SCOPE stands for Santa Clarita Organization for planning and the environment.


Sage: All right. Well thank you, Lynne, I appreciate, uh, your input. And we'll keep on top of this, and we'll invite you back later to talk more about Chiquita Canyon Landfill.


Lynne: Okay. Thank you so much for having me. I think it's an important topic and people should really know about it. So maybe they think about not putting so much trash or buying stuff and just throwing it away. Who knows, maybe it could be solved that way.


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