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Santa Monica Celebrates Restoration of its Groundwater Supply  

By Lookout Staff

February 28, 2011 -- After 15 years of legal wrangling and construction, the Santa Monica Water Treatment Plant is finally up and running, providing residents 8.5 million gallons of water a day from local wells.

In 1996, the Charnock well fields, which had supplied 50 percent of Santa Monica's water, were shut down because MtBE, a gasoline additive, had leaked into the groundwater from local gas stations.

The city took Shell, ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil and other companies to court and won $250 million in a settlement that paid for the damages the now-banned additive caused.

“We were among the first victims of MtBE pollution and will now set the standard for MtBE clean up,” Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom said at the dedication of the new treatment plant Thursday.

“We have proven that success can be wrestled out of even the worst of environmental disasters,” said Bloom.

Now that the plant is working, the city is back to producing about 70 percent of the water it needs and the city leaders expressed optimism that Santa Monica is well on its way to producing 100 percent of the water it needs by 2020.

And the city has gotten this far without charging water customers for the new treatment facility, or for the water the it has had to buy to make up for the polluted water it lost. The city had to pay the Metropolitan Water District some $3 million dollars a year after MtBE was found in its water sources.

“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,” said Gil Borboa, Water Resources Manager.

“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 rate payers of Santa Monica,” said Borboa.

Visitors to the plant were shown how the water is cleaned up through a series of steps. The water passes through “granulated activated carbon and then a three-stage Reverse Osmosis membrane system.” The water is forced through the system which traps minerals too large to fit through its pores.

Then “air stripping technology” removes any remaining volatile contaminants. The water is stored in a five million gallon reservoir at 1228 South Bundy Avenue just south of Wilshire Boulevard.

The Charnock well fields have been providing water to Santa Monica since 1924 and local politicians and environmentalists want to keep on “buying local” when it comes to water.

Not only is it better economy, it's also a responsible step towards preserving California's water reserves and those in neighboring states, they say.

Last month, Council member Terry O'Day urged the city to make water self-sufficiency a priority. Southern California's drains on the Sacramento Delta and Lake Mead are putting an intolerable strain on those ecosystems, he said.

Dr. Mark Gold, President of Heal the Bay, made a similar point at Thursday's dedication.

“Today’s dedication is the culmination of Santa Monica’s Herculean efforts to restore a reliable, sustainable water supply to the city,” Gold said.

“The City stood up to the oil industry to restore our precious groundwater resources, and their leadership means we don’t need to rely on imported water from the ecologically degraded delta,” said Gold.


“We were among the first victims of MtBE pollution and will now set the standard for MtBE clean up.”

"We have proven that success can be wrestled out of even the worst of environmental disasters."
Richard Bloom
     Santa Monica Mayor


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