Fullerton Water District

Status of North Orange County Groundwater Basin Superfund Project

Experts laid out both dire and hopeful presentations on the state of water in our area at the Fullerton Infrastructure & Natural Resources Committee last session of the year on November 7th. Committee members Vice Chair Ryan Alcantara, and members Munish Bharadwaja , Adel Hagekhalil, Ilse Miranda, Mark Shapiro, Patricia Tutor, and Lisa Wozab were present (Chair Sebourn and member Miranda were absent).

The North Orange County Basin (aquifer from which Fullerton pumps 75% of its water) became a Superfund Site in September 2020. The Superfund status allowed the EPA to become involved and for clean-up efforts to begin without waiting for the 20 identified companies responsible for the pollution to step up. EPA Region 9 Project Manager Larry Sievers started with the assurance that water served to residents is tested regularly and any problem wells are taken off line. He said, “currently five production wells and four drinking water wells have been shut down due to contamination in the Fullerton/Anaheim area.” (61 wells have been shut down throughout the entire North and central Orange County area served by the aquifer.)

The clean-up involves high levels of VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) which have been found in the shallow aquifer and are leaking into the deep aquifer. The four main VOCs are TCE, PCE, 1,1 DCE, and 1,4 Dioxane. Others of interest are PFAS, perchlorate, nitrates, 1,2,3 TCP and 1,2 DCA. Committee Vice Chair Alacantara asked if the new cleanup remedies will also treat the PFAS problem. Sievers said. “Yes.”

The EPA is partnering with OCWD as the lead agency in the investigation. Twenty-three monitoring wells have been placed at 13 locations in North Orange County to determine the size of the 7-mile-long plume with a focus on identifying source sites to clean up first in the effort to curb the spread. Monitoring wells have been located near Nicolas Jr. High, at Porter Ave. and at Baker Street in Fullerton.

Vice Chair Alcantara and committee member Tutor asked how treatable the pollutants are and when a solution will be implemented. Project Manager Sievers answered, “very treatable…though treating to drinking water quality comes at a cost.” He estimated it will take between 4 to 5 years to begin actual remediation, after the plume extent has been discovered, a plan finalized, a solution selected, and public review takes place. Alacantara said, “Seems we have no society without cleaning up drinking water quality despite the cost.”

Committee member Shapiro asked how the effort to get the polluters to pay for the cleanup was going so far. Sievers answered, “Raytheon did come to the table to clean up the Fullerton Airport well site, but the remainder have not come forward.” The EPA can charge polluters that fail to come forward three times the cost of clean-up. Resident Mark Willis asked how long the remedy once put in place would run and Sievers said at least 60 years.