Local Government

OCWD Director Whitaker’s Appointment to SAWPA Beneficial to Fullerton

At the February 5 City Council Meeting District 5 Councilmember Ahmad Zahra proposed that the council should appoint himself to replace Councilmember Bruce Whitaker as the Division 10 Director on the Orange County Water District (OCWD). The council voted 3 to 2 (Mayor Silva and Whitaker dissenting) to remove Whitaker and appoint Zahra though the vote was later determined to be out of process and will be on the council’s agenda on February 19. 

Mayor Silva and Whitaker advised the council that removing Whitaker from OCWD would also remove Whitaker from the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA), a special district comprised of 5 large water agencies, including OCWD, “with a mission to plan and build facilities to protect the water quality of the Santa Ana River Watershed,” as stated on SAWPA’s website. Whitaker’s alternate to SAWPA is Division 2 Director Denis Bilodeau and in Whitaker’s absence, Bilodeau not Zahra would serve as the Commissioner to SAWPA.

Whitaker’s positions on the Executive Board of SAWPA, as Secretary-Treasurer, and as a steering committee member of SAWPA’s One Water One Watershed (OWOW) task force provide him a unique opportunity to advocate for state water resources to benefit the northern portion of the aquifer from which Fullerton pumps as much as 75% of its water. In a phone interview with Mayor Silva he noted that there had been no OWOW projects in Fullerton and thought Whitaker could help bring attention to the city’s needs.

One of the greatest needs is due to a toxic plume seeping through the north basin that has caused 5 well closures in Fullerton and Anaheim, according to Superfund Status information. While the EPA’s is still assessing whether the north basin qualifies as a Superfund Site, Fullerton water rate increases propose to fund new wells costing $3 million each to replace the 2 closed wells with deeper wells that reach below the plume. (See Capital Improvement Program Schedule 3, page A-9 of the Draft Water Rate Study Draft Report.)

Aerospace and plating Industry dumping of chemicals such as solvents and rocket propellant in decades past are likely sources of the toxic perchlorate detected in the basin. Fullerton test wells are averaging 5.1 parts per billion (ppb), still below the current 6ppb maximum contaminant level (MCL), according to Adan Ortega, Fullerton’s representative on the Metropolitan Water District (MWD).

Ortega explained that California is moving towards a lower perchlorate MCL, depending on the availability of technology that will enable agencies to test at a lower detection level for reporting (DLR). In 2015 the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment of the California EPA updated the Public Health Goal (PHG) to 1ppb to consider “infants’ increased susceptibility to the health effects of perchlorate.”

Based on the new PHG, the State Water Resources Control Board Division on Drinking Water (DDW) is exploring the feasibility of revising the MCL to 1 or 2ppb following a process described in DDW Resolution 2017-0041.

If DDW lowers the Perchlorate MCL, OCWD or Fullerton would have to fund a study of the regional perchlorate contaminants to qualify for funds to aid in groundwater clean-up, according to Ortega. If SAWPA chose to update their 2004 Regional Perchlorate Investigative Report, it would enable OCWD or Fullerton to apply for grants without having to fund their own study.

The alternative to clean up, if funding is not available to help remediate the north basin to lower perchlorate levels to the new MCL, is to purchase additional imported water from MWD at nearly twice the price of pumping from the basin to blend with the contaminated water to lower the amount of Perchlorate to the acceptable level. That again, would be a blow to Fullerton rate payers who are already anticipating their water bills to as much as double over the next five years under the proposed water rate increases as discussed in the January Observer.

The council will consider Zahra’s proposal to remove Whitaker from the OCWD Board of Directors at the February 19 City Council Meeting.