Water is the lifeline of Orange County; we depend on safe, reliable water for our community and our economy to thrive. Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) and the city of Fullerton work together to ensure that the residents and businesses of our great city have a safe and abundant water supply for current and future generations.
How do we do this? OCWD manages and protects one of the region’s most valuable assets―the Orange County Groundwater Basin. The basin supplies 77% of the water for 2.5 million people in north and central Orange County. Fullerton pumps water from the basin and the remaining demand is met by purchasing imported water. The City is fortunate to rely on the basin for much of its water supply because it is more cost-effective and has greater reliability.
OCWD goes above and beyond to protect this regional asset. Its Philip L. Anthony Water Quality Laboratory tests water throughout the basin for more than 500 compounds, analyzes more than 20,000 samples each year, and reports more than 400,000 results. OCWD also provides regional testing of more than 200 drinking water wells for local drinking water suppliers, such as Fullerton, in order to help us meet monitoring and reporting requirements mandated by state and federal regulatory agencies.
Through this rigorous monitoring program, the District had detected legacy industrial contamination in the northern part of the basin (commonly referred to as the “plume”) and, more recently, it detected per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS, in the basin. Despite playing no role in releasing these contaminants into the environment, OCWD must work together with water retailers and regulatory agencies to remove or treat these contaminants to acceptable levels.
In February 2020, the state lowered regulatory levels for two types of PFAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which has caused the closure of at least one Fullerton drinking water well. The loss of wells could result in the City having to purchase more costly water.
OCWD has worked diligently over the past year to launch the nation’s largest PFAS pilot testing project to evaluate effective treatment technologies. It has also led a planning study to identify optimal treatment systems for impacted water providers with the goal of getting local groundwater supplies back online as soon as possible. Designs for 7 treatment facilities are underway, with Fullerton’s expected to be the first to come online. OCWD is also exploring cost recovery options including potential litigation along with impacted retail water agencies to help reduce financial impacts to our ratepayers.
OCWD has a rich history of proactively seeking ways to clean up the industrial pollutants, or plume, in the North Basin, which has resulted in the closure of three drinking water wells in Fullerton and one well in Anaheim and implementing short term measures, like deeper well extraction, to ensure that the current water supply we use is safe and clean. From extensive groundwater investigations, to litigation, to the installation and ongoing sampling of 100 new monitoring wells, the District has made significant investments to address this issue. It also has installed several extraction wells in North Basin, one of which is currently operating to control the spreading of the contaminant plume.
This month, we celebrate a critical milestone that has been years in the making, a milestone I’m happy to have been actively involved in; the EPA announced the listing of the Orange County North Basin Site on its National Priorities List (NPL), sometimes referred to as the Superfund List. This action falls within EPA’s core function of enforcement and compliance with the nation’s environmental laws and it will work with companies responsible for the contamination to clean it up instead of passing these costs on to ratepayers.
There’s still a long road ahead of us to clean up both PFAS and North Basin contamination, but we have made significant strides and we have done all that we can to protect and preserve our critical water supply.
OCWD and the city of Fullerton will continue to practice sound planning and appropriate investments to help meet any challenges confronting our water supply. Together, we stand strong in our commitment to provide safe, reliable water for today and for generations to come.
Ahmad Zahra is a Fullerton City Councilmember & OCWD Board Director Representing Fullerton
For more information, please visit www.OCWD.com or contact me at AhmadZ@cityoffullerton.com.
For updates on upcoming community meetings on water or other City matters, please follow www.facebook.com/ahmadzahracouncil.