Whittaker-Bermite groundwater caught, cleaned and released

Empty dump trucks pull into a soil treatment area to pick up clean dirt as viewed on tour of the clean-up efforts of the Whittaker/Bermite site in Valencia in October. Dan Watson/The Signal


As if a very soggy Santa Clarita Valley needed any more water at the moment, thousands of gallons of clean water are scheduled to be discharged into the Santa Clara River in the next two months.

Construction of the Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant to remove harmful perchlorate from groundwater at the contaminated Whittaker-Bermite site, next to the Metrolink Station on Soledad Canyon Road, is almost complete.

“The water treatment plant is about 90 percent complete,” said Jose Diaz, senior project manager for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the state agency overseeing the cleanup of 996 contaminated acres in the heart of the SCV.

“The anticipated schedule is to start the dry test and wet test on March 6,” Diaz said. “Water pumping and flow will start on Apr. 21, and ramp up the water treatment by May 11.”

Although the treated water is expected to be clean enough to drink, the cleaned groundwater will be returned to the ground – and, specifically, the Santa Clara River watershed.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health would be the ones who officially declare the water drinkable.  But, that option is not on the table – yet.

“On a temporary basis, we will be discharging the (cleaned) water into the river,” said hydrologist Hassan Amini, operations manager for the Amec Foster Wheeler company contracted to carry out the cleanup of Whitker-Bermite.

Amini noted that the discharge of treated water would serve to recharge SCV’s groundwater and replenish natural aquifers which have dwindled as a result of the lingering multi-year drought.

“In the long run, we would like to use that water as a secondary water source at the site,” Amini told The Signal Tuesday.

The Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant is made up of vertical tanks commuters see coming and going from the Metrolink station on Soled Canyon Road.

“We’re shooting for a total cleanup completion date of 2018,” Amini said.

Soil cleanup

To meet that goal, cleanup officials have stepped up their soil cleanup, nearly doubling the number of cleanup cells used in the process.  Each cell is as large as the concrete foundation of an unfinished home and contains 900 tons of soil.

“There are 67 cells being used right now to treat soil,” Diaz said. “An additional 56 cells will be constructed in the next few months.”

Asked why cleanup officials nearly doubled their soil cleanup process, Amini said: “We wanted to increase our capacity.”

In decontaminating the soil at Whittaker-Bermite, officials remove soil to a depth of 40 feet – 10 feet as a matter of protocol and an additional 30 feet in anticipation of future contractors digging that deep.

The soil cleanup cells, arranged in a grid pattern, cover an area larger than a football field. And, as cleanup officials push to finish by next year, that area has now nearly doubled in size.

In October, Amini took elected officials on a tour of the site to explain the cleanup.

He explained at that time how “bugs” break down the contaminants in the soil and how, once all the nasty material is removed, results of the cleanup are sent to the Department of Toxic Substances.  Once approved by state officials, the soil is trucked away and dumped on a separate area on the Whittaker Bermite site, with none of the material leaving the site.


For up to a decade, more than half a dozen drinking-water wells in the Santa Clarita Valley have gone unused because they are contaminated with perchlorate, a potentially harmful chemical byproduct of munitions manufacturing. The contamination is believed to come from the Whittaker-Bermite site south of Saugus Speedway on Soledad Canyon Road.

Perchlorate has been shown to interfere with the uptake of iodide by the thyroid gland and to thereby reduce the production of thyroid hormones, leading to adverse effects associated with inadequate hormone levels.

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