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LADWP to build treatment centers to tap contaminated groundwater

June 24, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Plans are announced to build the world's largest groundwater treatment center at a Superfund pollution site. It's the San Fernando Valley. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) says the expensive plan is a good investment.

There are two separate facilities that would turn the contaminated groundwater under Los Angeles into suitable drinking water. It won't come cheap: We're talking about $600- to $800-million. But the Department of Water and Power says it will pay off in the long run.

There is plenty of ground water underneath the San Fernando Basin. The problem is that much of it is contaminated, to the point that the Department of Water and Power stopped using it.

"Currently over half of the wells that we have in the San Fernando Valley are inoperable. We can't pump out of them," said James McDaniel, DWP senior assistant general manager.

McDaniel says the contamination from industrial solvents and other chemicals forced the DWP to abandon the Valley's groundwater. Instead, Los Angeles imports much of its water from Northern California.

"Right now we're having to buy expensive imported water to replace that lost supply," said McDaniel.

As a result, the DWP is planning to build the world's largest groundwater treatment center to be housed at two locations, one in North Hollywood near Vanowen and Lankershim, and another one near the intersection of the 5 and 170 freeways.

"It's a change in approach, but it's also a change in the engineering realities that we have out there," said McDaniel.

The two facilities will cost an estimated $600- to $800-million, but McDaniel says it will eventually save ratepayers money because the new plants will reduce L.A.'s dependency on water brought in from other parts of the state, which has seen a price increase of 84 percent over the past decade.

"We have bonding capacities so that we can spread the costs out over time. It'll be a good deal for our customers compared to the cost of buying more imported water," said McDaniel.

Don't expect to see the treatment centers in operation anytime soon. They won't be online until the year 2022. But still, the DWP says it's important to start planning for L.A.'s future.

"We're going to keep driving that conservation message home," said McDaniel. "But we need to have more reliable local supplies."

The DWP owns its own aquifer that brings water in from the Owens Valley, but it's producing less water than ever due to ongoing drought conditions.

Construction of the new groundwater treatment facilities is set to begin in 2018.


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