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Cam Noltemeyer: Safe water remains a major issue

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: December 15, 2010 9:16 p.m.
Updated: December 16, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Will our drinking water be safe or will Santa Clarita be mixing a toxic water cocktail for the holidays?

That’s exactly the question now being addressed by the state Department of  Public Health.

A document released a month ago for public review identifies how water from polluted Saugus water wells will be provided for drinking after it is cleaned. (You can view this extensive document at

Last week, after requests from the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, the Citizens Advisory Group and other members of the public, the department extended the comment period for an additional 10 days. There still is time to take a look at this material and submit comments by Monday. E-mail them to

This extensive document and review process is a requirement of the Department of Public Health Procedure Memorandum 97-005.

The purpose of this policy memo is to address “projects involving the direct domestic use of extremely impaired sources.” In this case, Saugus Well 1 and Saugus Well 2 qualify as an extremely impaired source due to contamination by perchlorate from the Whittaker-Bermite property.

This policy memo reiterates that the basic principle of the department is “that only the best quality sources of water reasonably available to a water utility should be used for drinking. When feasible choices are available, the sources presenting the least risk to public health should be utilized.

“Furthermore, these sources should be protected against contamination. Whenever possible, lower-quality source waters should be used for nonconsumptive uses, such as irrigation, recreation or industrial uses, which pose lower health risk.

“The use of contaminated water as a drinking water source always poses a greater health risk and hazard to the public than the use of an uncontaminated source because of the chance that the necessary treatment may fail. The use of an extremely impaired source should not be approved unless the additional health risk, relative to the use of other available drinking water sources, are known, minimized and considered acceptable.

“Perchlorate and its salts are a component of rocket fuel and ordnance production. Perchlorate’s interference with iodide uptake by the thyroid gland can decrease production of thyroid hormones, which are needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in the adult.”

Small amounts of trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene have been detected in the Saugus wells.

Castaic Lake Water Agency is requesting to blend this polluted water after it is cleaned through a filter process and then provide it directly to households in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

SCOPE has long had concerns about the safety of this process that may or may not be answered to the satisfaction of our community. We long have opposed serving blended water due to unanswered questions.

These questions include the adequacy of the monitoring requirements and the cumulative health impacts of low-level contamination.

Several years ago, the Environmental Working Group released a report on ammonium-perchlorate contamination that found levels as high as 8 parts per billion (the California standard is 6 parts per billion) in tests done on milk and lettuce. It turns out that cows and crops raised with contaminated water passed it along.

So is this contaminant cumulative? If low levels remain in our water supply, will other sources add to and raise that level?  How about buildup in the human body?

Will a continuous stream of low-level contamination remain in the human body, perhaps stored in fat tissue or somewhere else, only to show up 10 years in the future when it may become a health problem to sensitive members of  our community? Have any studies been done to assure the public that this will not happen?

As for monitoring, how will Castaic Lake Water Agency be monitored to ensure that the water is really being blended as required?

How often should water contamination tests be conducted to ensure that spikes of contaminants can’t sneak by tests undetected?

Supposedly, CLWA has plenty of water for all the new development in the SCV,  including buildout to a projected population of 500,000 people, but interestingly they don’t have enough water to supply our community from a clean water source.

We urge the Department of Public Health to consider using this water for recycled and irrigation purposes, not as a drinking water supply for our community.

They say you are what you eat. Could it also mean we are what we drink?

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita resident and member of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays and rotates among local environmentalists.


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