Marking the restoration of more than two-thirds of the city’s local drinking water supply, Santa Monica city leaders have officially reopened a facility to treat water from three area groundwater well fields.

City officials held a dedication ceremony Feb. 24 for the renovated Santa Monica Water Treatment Plant on Bundy Drive in West Los Angeles, calling it an important milestone toward the full restoration of the city’s local groundwater and the major reduction of the use of expensive imported water. The $60 million Water Treatment Plant, which began operating Dec. 4, treats water from the city’s three groundwater well fields – Charnock, Olympic and Arcadia – to provide about 8 million gallons of drinking water to residents.

Hailing improvements in water self-sufficiency, officials said the city is now able to produce about 70 percent of its drinking water needs each day and they have set a goal of making Santa Monica 100 percent water self-sufficient by 2020. The remainder of the water supply is currently purchased from the Metropolitan Water District, which receives water from Northern California and the Colorado River.

“We’re so thrilled to have this facility back online because we can now provide 70 percent of the city’s water demand from local wells,” said Gil Borboa, Santa Monica water resources manager. “We now have a lot more control of the costs and can assure ourselves that we have self sustainability.”

Borboa added that the facility provides local control to the city and its resources and removes much of the burden of having to purchase a majority of imported water.

Prior to being pumped to the Santa Monica Water Treatment Plant, the water is pre-treated at the Charnock Treatment Unit 3 miles away in Mar Vista. The treatment process at the Bundy Drive facility involves additional pre-treatment, reverse osmosis filtration, aeration and storage.

The city suffered the loss of half of its total water supply and nearly 70 percent of its groundwater production in 1996, after Charnock Well Field wells were contaminated with the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE). Five of the 11 Charnock wells were shut down after they were polluted with MTBE from leaking underground gasoline storage tanks and pipelines owned by various oil companies.

With the closure of the wells, the city was forced to purchase imported water for about 80 percent of its needs. The city sued the oil companies responsible for the MTBE contamination and eventually recovered a total of $250 million in settlement agreements.

The settlements allowed the city to work on restoring the Charnock Well Field as a primary water supply, and as part of the agreement, the city assumed full responsibility for the clean-up effort.

“We were among the first victims of MTBE pollution and will now set the standard for MTBE clean-up,” Mayor Richard Bloom said. “We have proven that success can be wrestled out of even the worst environmental disasters.”

Officials noted that the Santa Monica and Charnock water treatment facilities were fully funded with settlement money from the oil companies and not Santa Monica taxpayers.

“The fact that we’re here today is a testament to the city’s commitment to do the right thing and hold the polluters responsible for the clean-up costs,” said Bloom, who served on the council during the settlement process.

Borboa added, “It’s been a long journey to get here, and we’re thrilled to have all of our groundwater resources available to us once again.

“We’re very proud of having accomplished this by working very hard to ensure that every penny of the cost to build the treatment facilities was paid by the polluters and not by the ratepayers of Santa Monica.”

Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould called the dedication event a day of pride, saying it was a “mammoth endeavor many years in the making” for the city to overcome the MTBE contamination and work to restore its local water supply. He believes the treatment plant will serve the city very well for the future.

“We’ve taken a big step toward the council’s self-sufficiency goal,” Gould said.

Bloom noted that achieving true self-sufficiency will be a challenge that requires prudent management of the city’s water system, but he believes Santa Monica can once again provide clean local drinking water as a sustainable resource, “just as nature intended it.”

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