After Santa Monica residents have had to rely on an outside source for their drinking water for more than a decade, the Charnock Well Field is expected to return as a local source for the city’s drinking water.

The Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday, November 25th, to approve the proposed Charnock Well Field Restoration Project, after certifying the final environmental impact report (EIR) for the project.

The restoration project involves building a water treatment facility to remove groundwater contamination at the Charnock Well Field site in the neighboring Mar Vista community of Los Angeles, as well as disinfecting and fluoridating water at the Santa Monica Water Treatment Plant on Bundy Drive in West Los Angeles.

The Charnock water treatment facility will allow the City of Santa Monica to remove the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) in the water and restore the Charnock Well Field as a local drinking water supply. The City Council approval comes after a number of Mar Vista residents expressed concerns about the proposal, including visual impacts, noise, environmental issues and impacts on the neighborhood and nearby Windward School.

“This is a milestone in cleaning up our water and becoming self-sufficient,” Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom said of the proposed project.

Bloom called it a “tragedy of major proportions” when the city discovered through routine water testing in 1995 that the Charnock Well Field was contaminated with MTBE. Santa Monica closed the water wells following the discovery of the contaminants and has since relied on imported water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to temporarily provide safe drinking water to residents.

The city sued the oil companies responsible for the MTBE contamination and reached an agreement in 2006, recovering about $250 million. In March the city reached a $55 million settlement over a fee dispute with contingency attorneys who helped the city recover the money.

The settlements allowed the city to move forward in its plans to restore the Charnock field as its main water supply. Activists involved in local water quality issues hailed the city’s plans to bring back a local water source.

“The culmination of a decade of litigation and negotiations to get our local water supply back is a great reason for your support here tonight,” Mark Gold, president of the environmental organization Heal the Bay, told the City Council on November 25th.

Gold said the “scourge of MTBE” contamination has deprived Santa Monica residents from using their own ground water but the restoration project will lead to greater water independence and make the water supply more drought-proof.

Gilbert Ivey, assistant general manager of the Metropolitan Water District, told the council that Southern California is “in a perfect storm with our water supply” and the district supports the effort of communities to seek local water sources.

“There’s a tremendous need for our member agencies, including Santa Monica, to start looking at ways to take care of themselves on a local basis,” Ivey said.

Mar Vista Community Council members said they support Santa Monica’s effort to restore its local water source, but they wanted to ensure that the project is safe for the Mar Vista community. Santa Monica city officials had initially prepared a mitigated negative declaration for the project but later requested an EIR after residents, including the Mar Vista Community Council, voiced concerns about the project.

After reviewing the draft EIR, the Mar Vista Community Council submitted recommendations, including that Santa Monica consider finding an alternative site, and listed several concerns regarding noise and visual impacts with proposed 24-foot-high treatment tanks on the property.

In preparing the final project EIR, city staff said they refined the design, most notably “lowering the profile” of the treatment tanks by cutting their total number and placing a portion underground, reducing the height to 14 feet.

The final EIR found that potential environmental impacts of the project can be reduced to less than significant levels, city staff said.

Mar Vista Community Council members commended Santa Monica’s design changes regarding the height and number of tanks, saying they will significantly lessen the visual impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.

“They mitigated to a large degree a lot of the visual problems with the facility,” said Mar Vista Community Council first vice chair Albert Olson.

Community Council chair Rob Kadota added that he was pleased with the modifications made in the final EIR, including lowering the height of the tanks, which will significantly reduce the project’s visual impact.

“I think the City of Santa Monica took our concerns on the draft EIR seriously,” Kadota said.

But Olson noted that some Mar Vista neighbors are still concerned about possible noise issues, once the facility is in operation and large trucks will be traveling through the neighborhood transporting materials. Some are unsure whether the project modifications will keep the noise at its current levels but they say they are hopeful Santa Monica will continue seeking mitigation measures.

Kadota said the improvements made have shown that Santa Monica officials are willing to work to accommodate their neighbors.

“Time has shown that Santa Monica is willing to work with the City of L.A. on these local issues,” he said.

Bloom also acknowledged that the project, which is located outside Santa Monica city limits, demonstrates that the city works to address not only its own residents’ concerns but those of neighboring communities.

“We’re treating the residents of Mar Vista as if they are our own and that’s the way it should be,” Bloom said.

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