SCV Water sends letter about contamination concerns for landfill 

A truck leaves Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic on Tuesday. Dan Watson/ The Signal
A truck leaves Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic on Tuesday. Dan Watson/ The Signal


The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency sent a letter Wednesday to the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board to request testing of Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s leachate for the presence of contaminants that have plagued the local supply for years — per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. 

The chemical was detected five years ago in the landfill’s leachate, according to the local water provider, which also stated the landfill has not tested for PFAS since it was detected in 2019. 

The letter notes the local water agency relies on groundwater for about half of its local supply, and the agency is “concerned about potential groundwater impacts due to current conditions at the Chiquita Canyon Landfill” because SCV Water maintains drinking water supply wells within 3,000 feet of the facility. 

“One of our top concerns is the presence of (PFAS) in leachate seeping from the landfill, that has reportedly migrated to sedimentation basins during large storm events … and then may either infiltrate from the unlined basins to groundwater or discharge to the Santa Clara River,” according to a letter sent Wednesday and signed by Steve Cole, assistant general manager of SCV Water. 

Related to those concerns, an attorney for more than 200 residents suing L.A. County and the landfill seeking an injunction to close it immediately were in court Friday and received a schedule of hearing dates for their lawsuit. 

SCV Water’s letter 

SCV Water sent its letter one day after Chiquita Canyon Landfill was issued another notice of violation for pumping untreated stormwater from its stormwater basins into the local waterway. 

Chiquita Canyon Landfill did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding SCV Water’s letter. 

Wednesday, in response to the Regional Water Board’s violation letter, the landfill issued a statement that the landfill “does not pump leachate into stormwater detention basins or into the Santa Clara River.”  

The Regional Water Board issued a letter March 28 stating there was evidence leachate had made it to the landfill’s stormwater basin multiple times. 

“Based on this reported data and the severe weather condition on Dec. 22, 2023, leachate comingled with stormwater runoff which flowed into the stormwater basin and into the south detention basin where it discharged into the Santa Clara River,” according to the letter.  

The letter states the violations involve the landfill’s repeated failures to implement best management practices to prevent additional leachate seepage.  

“Based on this reported data and the proximity of the leachate leaking area to the channel, leachate migrated into the concrete-lined drainage channel, comingled with stormwater runoff which flowed into the stormwater basin and into the south detention basin where it discharged into the Santa Clara River,” the letter reported from a Jan. 29, 2024, inspection.  

Officials stated in the letter they also surmised the leachate was in the concrete stormwater basins again during the week of Feb. 4-19, based on the evidence they collected. 

The leachate production and a nauseating odor have been a problem at the landfill for more than a year due to an elevated temperature event, or a smoldering subsurface reaction of an unknown origin. 

The landfill has drawn over 10,000 complaints from residents, who are also suing to shut down the facility due to the smells, pollution and residents’ health concerns. 

SCV Water shared its concerns in a statement this week: 

“SCV Water is concerned about leachate releases from the Chiquita Canyon Landfill site and supports the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board’s order to investigate leachate releases,” according to a statement from Kevin Strauss, spokesman for SCV Water. “SCV Water does not have authority to require the landfill to investigate the impact of the releases, but has requested that the regional board have Chiquita Canyon Landfill test for contaminants that impact drinking water quality as part of its investigation order.” 

While there’s been much discussion about the potential for benzene in the leachate that’s collecting on site at the landfill due to an emergency order, the letter from SCV Water was about a contaminant that’s drawn national attention this week due to an announcement from the Biden Administration over a new national, legally enforceable standard for PFAS contamination. 

“We request that the water board require sampling of both sedimentation basins (south and east) and analysis for PFAS by EPA Method 1633 as soon as possible and after upcoming storm events,” according to Cole’s letter. “We also request that PFAS be analyzed in the new groundwater monitoring wells after their installation and in leachate. We also request that sampling for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and metals be required for the east sedimentation basin, on a similar schedule to that being required for the south sedimentation basin.” 

The water agency also indicated a flow chart that shows how leachate seep areas in the northern and eastern borders could end up in the south basin.  

PFAS concerns 

SCV Water has a long and expensive history with PFAS removal in other areas of the SCV, upstream from the landfill.  

The agency has a capital improvement plan that expects to spend about $200 million to remove what are known as “forever chemicals,” which are labeled as such because many of them won’t break down over time in the human body, which can lead to severe health problems.  

On Tuesday, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced a three-year timeline for its new enforcement standard for PFAS that first calls for testing to determine whether the contaminant exists in a local supply.  

In response to the news, SCV Water said it would welcome additional federal funds to deal with the treatment, which also is currently tied to a costly court battle the agency is engaged with involving the former owners of the Whittaker-Bermite site. That land is now being proposed for a development to be called Sunridge in the center of the city of Santa Clarita. 

Separate from the cleanup related to the Whittaker-Bermite site, SCV Water is asking for testing at Chiquita to determine the extent of any PFAS groundwater contamination that may have emanated from the landfill. 

“In 2019, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (a type of PFAS known as PFOS) was detected at a concentration of 200 nanograms per liter (ng/L) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, which is also a PFAS) at a concentration of 2,800 ng/L in leachate (among other detected PFAS),” the local water agency’s letter said. “SCV Water is required to provide treatment for PFAS in its water supply wells to very low concentrations to meet California’s existing response levels, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency proposed maximum contaminant level for PFOS and PFOA is 4 ng/L. For this reason, data should be collected to assess whether PFAS in the leachate from the landfill has the potential to reach groundwater.” 

The Regional Water Board did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment on the SCV Water Agency’s request for additional testing.

Next step for lawsuit 

An effort to shut down the landfill was in court Friday with its first hearing in front of Judge Stephen Goorvitch, who will hear the case in Downtown Los Angeles. Goorvitch was appointed to the bench by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015. He retained his seat in 2022 as there were no challengers, according to Ballotpedia. 

Friday’s court date was intended to schedule future hearings in the case, according to a local lawyer for the plaintiffs. 

Oshea Orchid, a Castaic Area Town Council member and attorney, is one of two Val Verde representatives on the advisory group, but Friday she was in court to represent the Citizens for Chiquita Canyon’s Closure, which is suing L.A. County and Chiquita Canyon to shut down the landfill.  

L.A. County counsel did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.  

Orchid is representing residents in another action that’s seeking compensation for the health and financial impacts from the landfill’s pollution. 

The landfill must file a written response to the plaintiffs’ writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief by May 3. 

Counsel for the plaintiffs will have two weeks to file their response, and there will be oral arguments presented from both sides June 5. 

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