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R. J. Kelly: CLWA flush with success

Castaic Lake Water Agency

Posted: October 17, 2009 7:49 p.m.
Updated: October 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
It was high on the list of things for local water professionals to do in 2009: Complete construction of a treatment plant to remove perchlorate from local groundwater, thus stopping the spread of contamination caused by a former munitions manufacturing plant.
Check!

On Sept. 22, the Castaic Lake Water Agency celebrated completion of a treatment plant that is designed to not only stop the contaminant plume in its tracks, but also remove perchlorate from our valley’s groundwater supply and restore previously closed wells to service.

The celebration was held in partnership with several other agencies, reflecting the cooperative effort to remove the contamination.

These include CLWA’s Santa Clarita Water Division, Newhall County Water District, Valencia Water Co. and the city of Santa Clarita.
Among the dignitaries who joined us in celebrating this milestone was Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, who highlighted the cooperative nature of the effort.

“My compliments to Castaic Lake Water Agency for its tireless efforts in serving the needs of citizens of the Santa Clarita Valley,” said Smyth, R-Santa Clarita. “By pulling together a cooperative effort involving representatives from federal, state, county and city governments, including the Department of Toxic Substance Control, the Army Corps of Engineers and a Citizens Advisory Group, CLWA has forged a spirit of cooperation that allows the Santa Clarita Valley to not only identify environmental concerns, but also to address them with the most cost-effective and up-to-date methodologies available.”

Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste echoed the sentiment: “CLWA had everyone working on it. They had Congressman Buck McKeon working on it, they had Senator George Runner working on it, they had Assemblyman Smyth working on it. We at the city helped facilitate getting the pipelines to the treatment plant. They did a beautiful job and they had the vision and leadership to attain a goal that will facilitate clean and healthy water for the future of Santa Clarita.”

State Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, praised CLWA for its forward thinking and action in implementing technology that will benefit the community: “As one of the first communities in California to face the problem of perchlorate contamination, CLWA charged ahead and found a method to remove the contamination and put these wells back in operation.”

We’re grateful to all of our government leaders for their help in making this cutting-edge project a reality. It’s especially gratifying to see multi-agency cooperation benefit the environment and residents alike, as the new plant serves the dual purpose of removing the contamination from groundwater while also restoring the ability to utilize a valuable source of municipal water.

This, despite criticism from so-called environmentalists who have continuously attempted to misinform the public with claims that CLWA has been “relying” on a contaminated water supply. That has never been true — rather, we have been methodically taking the necessary steps to restore a portion of the valley’s well capacity that had been out of service for more than a decade due to contamination.

The Sept. 22 event marked the beginning of the cleanup, as the plant is ready to begin its shakedown tests that will allow it to remove perchlorate from groundwater. The final phase of the two-year construction project will be completion of a pipeline that will convey the treated water to be blended into the municipal water supply. Work on that final pipeline is expected to be finished soon.

The new plant is located at CLWA’s Rio Vista Intake Pump Station on Bouquet Canyon Road, and its debut represents a victory for the entire SCV in confronting what had been one of the community’s most vexing issues.

Why did we need a perchlorate treatment plant in the first place?

It started more than 70 years ago. On a 996-acre piece of land near the center of our valley, a company called Bermite — later known as Whittaker-Bermite — manufactured and tested explosives. After about 50 years of making military flares, munitions, fireworks and other related products, Bermite ceased operations in 1987.

Those decades of munitions work had contaminated the soil — and some of the contamination had seeped into the groundwater.

The plume was slowly migrating away from the property, and eventually contaminated several drinking water wells with perchlorate, a byproduct of rocket fuel that has been linked to thyroid problems when consumed by humans.

To prevent the contamination from making its way into the municipal water supply, several wells were taken out of service in 1997.

This reduction in capacity had to be accounted for as we planned water availability for the SCV.

Meanwhile, CLWA and other local agencies continued to work on a solution that would not only treat the water but also prevent the contamination from spreading further into the valley’s groundwater supply. To ensure the responsible parties paid for the cleanup, CLWA and three local water retailers filed a lawsuit against the current and former owners of the Bermite property seeking to force them to pay for the cleanup.

Thanks to a favorable settlement of the Whittaker-Bermite lawsuit, construction began in 2007 on the $5 million treatment plant and $14 million worth of pipelines — all of which has been built at virtually no expense to local residents.

The benefits are twofold: No longer is perchlorate contamination a threat to the valley’s valuable groundwater supplies, and further, the wells that were previously shut down can be brought back into service, restoring precious capacity that had been lost.

We at CLWA are especially proud to have been able to accomplish these important goals without costing local ratepayers money.

The successful debut of the perchlorate treatment plant has been a long time coming, and its arrival signifies a major victory for the entire SCV in solving what had been one of our community’s most challenging problems.

R. J. Kelly is the president of the Castaic Lake Water Agency Board of Directors.  His column reflects the agency’s views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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