Hoping to restore the Charnock Well Field as a local supply of drinking water, the City of Santa Monica has proposed to construct a facility to treat water from the Los Angeles well field that was contaminated with a gasoline additive.

The city plans to build the water treatment facility on Santa Monica Water Division property in the Mar Vista community of Los Angeles, which would include about 15 treatment tanks standing 20 feet above the ground.

The project would 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 so that it can once again be used as a drinking water supply for residents.

“We’re trying to treat the water that’s been contaminated with MTBE and make sure that the water that gets distributed to the City of Santa Monica is clean water,” said Spiros Lazaris, project manager for the Santa Monica Charnock Well Field restoration. “The intent is to get back to the main groundwater source that we have.”

The city discovered through routine water testing in 1995 that the Charnock Well Field, a primary source of the city’s drinking water, was contaminated with MTBE. While a portion of the well field is underground in Mar Vista, Santa Monica has owned the water rights since the 1930s.

Santa Monica closed the Charnock water wells following the discovery of the contaminants and has since purchased water from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) 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 have allowed the city to move forward in its plans to restore the Charnock field as its main water supply. The city has prepared a mitigated negative declaration, which can be adopted instead of an environmental impact report (EIR) if there is no substantial evidence found for such an effect.

Local community members who have expressed concerns about the project’s environmental review process have submitted comments to the city to ensure that their concerns are addressed.

At a special meeting of the Mar Vista Community Council Tuesday, April 22nd — one day before the deadline to submit comments — the council discussed several community concerns, including visual impacts, noise, environmental issues and impacts on the neighborhood and nearby Windward School.

Mar Vista Community Council members suggested that the mitigated negative declaration for the Charnock restoration project not be approved, saying that the “first step in any consideration of the restoration project must be an environmental impact report as suggested by CEQA guidelines.”

Community Council chair Rob Kadota noted that the council supports Santa Monica’s effort to restore its local water source but Mar Vista wants to ensure that the project is safe for the community.

“If we can create local sources of water and reduce our reliance on imported water, that’s a good thing,” Kadota said. “What we’re concerned about is whether the treatment is safe and how can we mitigate the negative consequences.”

Community Council member Albert Olson, chair of the transportation and infrastructure committee, added, “We are in favor of finding local sources of water but we want to make sure that reactivating the wells is done in a deliberative way.”

Olson said one of his main concerns is the visual impact of the 15 20-foot-high tanks on the neighborhood that is used to looking at the Windward School property.

“We don’t want the tanks sitting there staring all of these residents in the face,” he said.

The restoration project includes improvements at both the Charnock Well Field in Mar Vista and the Santa Monica Water Treatment Plant, where two saltwater wells would replace existing wells on Santa Monica beach. The treated water would be pumped to the Santa Monica Treatment Plant for distribution.

City staff has suggested reducing the visual impact of the Santa Monica plant wells by burying the wells so only five feet is above ground, and the Mar Vista council suggests the same consideration for the 15 Charnock tanks.

The Mar Vista Community Council is urging Santa Monica to conduct a complete environmental impact report for the project, which would “answer a lot of questions” about potential effects on the community, Olson said.

Lazaris said that at the time Santa Monica was preparing the California Environmental Quality Act documentation, staff believed there was enough justification to warrant the project for a mitigated negative declaration versus an environmental impact report.

Mar Vista Community Council members have also recommended that the City of Los Angeles take an active role in the process as the project plan is entirely within Los Angeles city limits. The Mar Vista Community Council is the city-certified Neighbohood Council for this area of Los Angeles.

“We’re also extremely concerned that the City of Los Angeles is not involved in the process,” Olson noted.

Lazaris said Santa Monica staff has received Mar Vista’s comments, along with those from other members of the public, and will review each of them very carefully. Staff plans to respond to the comments within three weeks, he said.

“We’re looking at all the alternatives,” said Lazaris, adding that staff has been in contact with the Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office and the Windward School.

Santa Monica plans to restart the Charnock Wells in 2010, when construction of the treatment facility is expected to be completed.

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