After listening to testimony from dozens of angry residents, the Simi Valley City Council on Monday refused to allow Rockwell International to discharge water from its Santa Susana Field Laboratory into the municipal sewer system.
The decision means that Rockwell may have to spend more than $3 million to build a water treatment facility at the lab west of Chatsworth and southeast of Simi Valley. The council's decision came after a three-hour hearing.
The company had sought permission to discharge about 75,000 gallons a day of water used as a coolant in an electrical cogeneration plant. The water does not come into contact with any chemical or radioactive materials but it contains high concentrations of naturally occurring salts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will not permit the company to discharge the water into ponds on the site without treating it.
Rockwell officials had hoped to get a permit from the city to allow the untreated water to be disposed of by diluting it with the water in the city sewer system.
But city officials, in concert with a recommendation by the Department of Public Works, rejected the proposal in 3-0 vote. Council members Ann Rock and Vicky Howard left the meeting without voting because their husbands are retired Rockwell employees.
In voting against the proposal, Councilman Bill Davis said he was concerned that "we can't just shut off the valve if there is a problem."
The council also said it preferred not to set a precedent by allowing a company outside the city sewer district boundaries to discharge water.
Rockwell official Steve Lafflam called the decision "a shame" and said the company was a target of "a well-organized effort to shut down operations related to the nuclear field."
The council's decision follows weeks of publicity about a U.S. Department of Energy report on chemical and radioactive contamination at the lab, where the firm's Rocketdyne division does nuclear and other work for the federal agency.
Joe Cleveland, another Rockwell official, took a swig from a bottle containing the water and said, "It's not toxic."
But Fred Weniger, one of about 40 people who spoke, said there would be no guarantee that the water discharged into the sewer would be uncontaminated.