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A legislative solution to a nonexistent problem

Local Commentary

Posted: April 24, 2008 4:45 p.m.
Updated: June 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
One thing everyone can agree upon: Water served to the public should be clean, safe, potable and free of
contaminants. Here at the Castaic Lake Water Agency, we settle for nothing less - and that always has been the case.

Unfortunately, casual observers of a legislative debate in Sacramento may incorrectly assume otherwise.
In The Signal's "Environmentally Speaking" column published April 10, 2008, Ms. Cam Noltemeyer argues
that new legislation, Assembly Bill 2046, is needed to ensure contaminated water is not served to the public.

"It should be made absolutely clear that such contaminated water cannot be used," Noltemeyer's column said.

We couldn't agree more - but, of course, we already thought it was pretty clear. It's absurd to think CLWA
or any of the four local water retailers would deliver "contaminated water" for public consumption.

AB 2046, which passed out of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee by the slimmest of margins last week, would add new rules to the way water suppliers statewide can "count" water supplies in their Urban Water Management Plans and Water Supply Assessments.

Under the original language introduced by AB 2046 author Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento,
groundwater could only be counted in Urban Water Management Plans and Water Supply Assessments if it
meets public health standards or has been treated to meet public health standards.

Since groundwater must first be extracted from underground basins - called aquifers - before it can
be treated, a very literal interpretation of AB 2046 as originally written could prevent water suppliers
statewide from counting any underground supplies as available for public use. After all, even the cleanest
groundwater is disinfected (a form of treatment) before distribution to the public, which ensures all
water delivered to your home is safe for consumption.

Therefore, it appears AB 2046 is an unnecessary piece of legislation - truly a solution in search of a
problem.

However, amendments have been proposed that would refine the bill's intent, and those amendments appear to be a reasonable compromise, still giving the bill's proponents assurance that water suppliers will
continue to do what they already do.

We hope to see this new language added to AB 2046 as it moves to the Assembly floor. And, we're glad to see the committee's approval was accompanied by a stipulation that the bill's author work with the
Association of California Water Agencies to address the water community's concerns about the bill's
original language. Further, we're pleased that Assemblyman Jones is receptive and willing to receive
input from water professionals.

The amendments, as currently proposed, would allow Urban Water Management Plans and Water Supply
Assessments to include water supplies projected to be derived from contaminated underground sources, only so long as a water supplier includes a plan for remediation, a schedule, an identified funding source
and an explanation of any factors that cause uncertainty in the timeline of the planned cleanup.

In other words, the amendments would enable AB 2046 to provide added assurances that contaminated water supplies would not be targeted for public use without proper cleanup, while still allowing water agencies to do their jobs and realistically plan for the future.

However, the debate over AB 2046 is, if you'll pardon the expression, fluid, so the situation may change at
any time.

The bill has statewide implications, but at issue locally is a plume of contamination from the former
Whittaker-Bermite munitions manufacturing plant in the center of our valley, near Saugus Speedway. In the mid-20th century, Whittaker's operations contaminated soil and groundwater beneath the property with a rocket fuel by-product called ammonium perchlorate.

Consumed in high concentrations, perchlorate can cause public health issues including thyroid problems. As a result of the contamination, several local wells were shut down to ensure that no contaminated water was served to the public. Meanwhile, CLWA, the local water retailers and other local leaders successfully pressed current and former owners of the site to clean up the groundwater (and soil) contaminated by perchlorate.

A few years ago, CLWA and the local water retailers successfully defended a lawsuit regarding our 2000
Urban Water Management Plan. However, an appeal by Friends of the Santa Clara River and the Sierra Club resulted in the court temporarily setting aside CLWA's Urban Water Management Plan because it did not provide sufficient information about the reliability of the groundwater supply affected by perchlorate
contamination during the time the cleanup plan was being implemented.

Ironically, the court's ruling only related to the documentation of our already ongoing efforts and
schedule to clean up the perchlorate contamination. It did not impact in any manner the action plan already being implemented to remedy the contamination nor the groundwater supply projections in the Urban Water Management Plan.

And, contrary to misinterpretations that some seem to make publicly and routinely without their statements being questioned, the court did not rule that CLWA had relied upon contaminated supplies. It's simply not true. We never have and never will rely upon contaminated water for public use.

We will, however, pursue any available means of maximizing our supply of clean, potable water for our
customers. That's just good water management.

In that vein, CLWA, in cooperation with local water retailers and the property owners, has begun a $32
million project to clean up the perchlorate contamination of groundwater emanating from the
Whittaker-Bermite site. The property owners and their insurance provider are bearing the expense.

The cleanup is not just something that's being talked about. It is real, it is here, and it is under
construction. The project uses proven technology approved by the Department of Public Health. The water
treatment process will remove the perchlorate from the water without producing a waste stream requiring a
brine disposal pipeline. The project is expected to begin removing perchlorate from the contaminated wells
next January.

After the water is treated, it will be fit for consumption. CLWA and the local water retailers treat each of our various sources of water to meet public health standards, and those standards are met without blending "contaminated" water supplies with clean supplies. Contrary to Noltemeyer's allegation, we don't dilute contamination. We remove it.

One thing has never changed, and never will: it's our mission to acquire and deliver high-quality, potable
and safe water to Santa Clarita Valley residents, and we take that mission seriously. Most fundamentally,
it's our job, and we will continue to do it - with or without AB 2046.

Dan Masnada is general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency. His column reflects his own views, not
necessarily those of The Signal.

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