Case Study June 2023: SCV Water Leads Way on PFAS Response

  • by ACWA Staff
  • Jun 23, 2023
  • Newsletters

(l-r) SCV Water Board Directors Beth Braunstein, Kathye Armitage, Bill Cooper, President Gary Martin, Vice President Piotr Orzechowski and Director Ken Petersen participate in a ribbon cutting late last year to showcase the benefits of the Valley Center Well Groundwater Treatment Facility.

Like many water agencies nationwide and throughout California, SCV Water faces a long-term water quality crisis from PFAS. At one point, the agency had to take offline 20 of its 42 active wells because of the contaminant during the last drought, presenting a steep challenge for an agency that relies on groundwater for about half of its water supply to serve a community of 300,000 people.

Adding to the pressure, PFAS – per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances – is driving new state and federal regulations while news media reports and movies, often alarmist, create additional concerns for customers. But today, SCV Water is recognized as a pioneer in addressing PFAS contamination by acting quickly in 2019 through an aggressive three-prong strategy focused on treatment, technology and transparency.

Serving the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles, SCV Water’s situation is somewhat atypical in that no clear source of PFAS contamination (such as a manufacturing plant) was readily apparent in its area. Instead, testing by the agency found elevated PFAS levels in discharge from local wastewater treatment plants, demonstrating the pervasive nature of PFAS in everyday life. PFAS found its way into the water supplies of many California communities after decades of use not only in Teflon pans, but in fast food packaging, firefighting foams and other materials designed to be waterproof, stain-resistant and have non-stick properties. 

Because of the widespread nature of the problem, SCV Water tested every well in its system while immediately forming a strike team composed of agency staff and outside experts in 2019 that has met biweekly since. SCV Water was among the first agencies to proactively test every well, and not just those indicated in orders from the state Division of Drinking Water, according to SCV Water Communications Manager Kathie Martin. 

At the same time, SCV Water fast-tracked California’s first treatment plant to use synthetic ion adsorption as a treatment method to remove PFAS. The process uses ionic polarity (positive and negative charges) to attract a specific chemical charge. PFAS chemicals are negatively charged and have an affinity for positively charged resin.

 SCV Water was also among the first three public agency labs in the state of California, and among the first 25 nationwide, to receive certification by California’s Environmental Lab Accreditation Program for PFAS testing, providing the agency testing results in much less time.

The centerpiece of SCV Water’s success is the Valley Center Well Groundwater Treatment Facility. Originally constructed in 2010 as SCV’s Valley Center Well, it was taken offline in 2019 when PFAS was detected. The facility and SCV Water’s PFAS response earned it ACWA’s prestigious Clair A. Hill Water Agency Award for Excellence, presented during ACWA’s 2023 Spring Conference & Expo. 

Today the facility produces 1,200 gallons of water a minute, on average, enough to serve 1,000 families annually. It includes two vessels, pumps, motors and ancillary equipment. The total project cost came to $5.5 million. This was the second SCV Water PFAS treatment facility completed and a third is under construction, while as many as fifteen treatment facilities may ultimately be installed to deal with the extent of PFAS contamination.

Transparency has also been one of the cornerstones of the agency’s approach to tackling PFAS in SCV Water’s service area, which covers 195 square miles.

“We have communicated frequently from the very beginning, with a robust web page, dedicated e-newsletters, direct mail, as well as outreach through social and traditional media,” Martin stated through an email interview. “We believe this approach has kept the community informed, without being alarmed.”

Meanwhile, the impact of PFAS contamination continues unfolding within the water community. The issue is the subject of extensive ACWA engagement through regulatory advocacy at both the state and federal levels. Numerous water agencies throughout the country, including SCV Water, are also pursuing civil damages from major chemical companies that manufactured PFAS before its use was banned in the U.S.

Going forward, SCV Water’s approach to PFAS has provided a model for other water agencies. Agency staff has been invited to various water conferences and communicated with other local water agencies to share lessons learned and extend advice regarding design, construction, operations and maintenance of PFAS treatment plants.

“PFAS represents a significant challenge for water agencies in their mission to provide safe, reliable and high-quality water to their communities,” said SCV Water General Manager Matt Stone. “But no challenge is insurmountable when you apply collaboration and innovation. We are proud to serve as a resource, and grateful to learn from our colleagues, in the water industry here in California and nationwide.”

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