SCV Water announces grant for well cleanup, potential rate increase

A project rendering available on an SCV Water Agency website created to inform residents about the treatment plan shows the planned location of the facility. Courtesy SCV Water
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The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency is planning a nearly $17 million groundwater treatment plant across the street from Bridgeport Park to help make the area’s water supply cleaner, safer and more stable, according to local water officials. 

To pay for the project, other infrastructure needs and debt financing, the agency also is expected to discuss the issuance of a $75 million bond at its board meeting Tuesday, which could raise rates an average of 6% per year from 2024 to 2032. 

The projected increase could nearly double the average monthly bill for ratepayers from about $60 per month to about $100. 

The water agency is getting $5 million from the federal government, which is expected to cover almost one-third of the cost of the facility, with the rest of the funds — a little over $11.99 million — coming from SCV Water, according to a successful grant application announced Friday. 

“We are committed to investing in local projects that restore our community’s local water supply,” said SCV Water General Manager Matt Stone. “Regardless of recent winter rains, the Sierra snowpack, or the current drought conditions in California, projects and actions that contribute to a sustainable local water supply are always needed.” 

The project’s goal is to remove the insidious per- and polyfuoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, from three wells, referred to as the S Wells, where the cancer-causing chemicals were detected at an average rate of twice the response level before the wells were taken offline.  

The proposal includes a 1,200-square-foot chlorination building on a 0.4-acre plot expected to increase the area’s groundwater capacity by up to 9,678 acre-feet per year, or nearly 15%. The average family uses between one-half and one acre-foot of water per year, according to the Water Education Foundation.  

The federal grant that’s helping to pay for the project is part of $1 billion the government is spending with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the innovative WaterSmart program, which supports local entities trying to plan for and implement actions to increase water supply and avoid conflict. 

SCV Water also thanked Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, in a statement Friday announcing the federal allocation. 

“We deeply appreciate Congressman Mike Garcia’s support in applying for this federal grant, which is targeted to restore local groundwater affected by PFAS and will further build SCV Water’s drought resilience,” said SCV Water board President Gary Martin. “We will continue to look for innovative avenues to restore local groundwater supply and increase our drought resiliency in the SCV.” 

The project is intended to “increase local dry year water supply reliability and reduce dry-year reliance on environmentally sensitive imported water” from the State Water Project, according to the agency’s grant application.  

How it works 

The plans call for a centralized ion exchange PFAS treatment facility, according to the grant application, which will remove PFAS, including Perfluorooctanic Acid, or PFOA.  

Having high levels of PFAS — manmade chemicals used worldwide in consumer products that resist grease, water and oil since the 1940s — in the bloodstream may lead to: increased cholesterol levels; decreased vaccine response in children; changes in liver enzymes; increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women; and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which also notes that most people have been exposed and have these chemicals in their blood.  

Ion exchange, or IX treatment, is “commonly used for the removal of contaminants such as nitrate and perchlorate,” according to SCV Water’s June 2022 grant application. 

The system uses pressurized treatment vessels filled with polymer-based IX resins that remove contaminants as water passes through the system. The resins are made of “very small plastic porous beads with affixed charges functionally balanced by counter ions. Contaminant removal occurs when the counter ion is exchanged for the charged contaminant ion.” 

The project site near the S Wells was chosen because a centralized location near the wells was deemed most effective. 

As far as approval of the construction project, that would still need to go through the normal channels, according to water officials. 

“We have been working with the city throughout the preliminary design process, and the latest site plan incorporates their comments,” according to an email statement from Kathie Martin, spokeswoman for SCV Water, who also noted the agency set up an outreach page for the project. “Once the final design is completed, it will be submitted to the city for approval. And the project is not exempt from CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), so we are currently finalizing the mitigated negative declaration.” 

“A mitigated negative declaration is a negative declaration that incorporates revisions in the proposed project that will avoid or mitigate impacts to a point where clearly no significant impacts on the environment would occur,” according to the state’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. 

How it will help 

The project will help in a number of ways, including a significant boost to the area’s available clean water supply.  

In the grant application, SCV Water notes that the average level of PFOA detected at the three wells impacted by the project were 22.3, 24.3 and 26 parts per trillion, with the response level — or the level at which water should be taken out of the supply — listed as 10 parts per trillion. 

The goal of the project would be to take that level down to 2 parts per trillion, according to the grant application. 

The short- and long-term cost savings to the agency of building the plant versus trying to replace the water by purchasing it is also significant, SCV Water officials note, with the annual cost of an acre-foot in the 2022 grant estimated at $1,716 per acre-foot, and the plant expected to increase the SCV’s annual groundwater capacity by more than 9,000 acre-feet.  

The project is not just meant to address cost, but also reliability, the agency notes, with the purchasable water supply further complicated by the state’s extreme drought situation. 

The project would “provide reliable groundwater supplies at least until 2070.” 

And the additional water sources mean SCV Water is less reliant on its allocation from the SWP, which, due to the recent drought, only allocated 5% of its share of water from SWP in 2021 and 2022. 

Bond issuance 

In a separate discussion, SCV Water’s Finance and Administration Committee at a Jan. 23 meeting recommended moving forward with a bond issuance plan for later this year. 

A slideshow created by the agency to explain the issuance forecasts rate increases for the average ratepayer — which is determined as using 18 cubic-feet of water per month, or about 13,464 gallons, roughly 224 gallons per day — that pencil out to a little over 6% a year until 2032. 

“The forecasted monthly charge in (fiscal year) 2031-32 … for an average three-quarter-inch meter customer using 18 (cubic feet) is $102.40,” Martin wrote Monday, in response to a question about the bill. “This scenario, as projected, will allow the agency to complete its 10-year CIP plan ($360 million in large capital projects/improvements, $387 million in pay-go to maintain/replace existing infrastructure), with assumptions for annual inflation, using and replenishing reserves and maintaining the required debt coverage ratio.” 

Starting in 2023, the rate increase would be $3.87 per month, or about $46 per year, in one of the scenarios presented by SCV Water. In 2024-25, the increase would be $4.12 per month. The highest predicted increase is $6.08 per month in 2025-26, which goes down slightly to a $5.89-per-month increase in 2026-27. In the last three years, from 2029-30 to 2030-31, the rate increase is predicted to be about 4% per month, amounts that total $3.79, $3.94 and $4.76. 

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