Thrilling. Exhilarating. Inspiring.
This is how it feels to witness a $23-million-dollar revolutionary environmental clean-up project, almost twenty years in the making, come to fruition. When our customers turn on their tap, they need not worry about their water quality. Why? Because their drinking water has been treated by the nation’s first Fluidized Bed Reactor (FBR) designed to remove perchlorate using bioremediation and deliver that water to potable use at the West Valley Water District.
We provide water to approximately 70,000 people, spanning two counties in Southern California in a 29.5 square-mile area including portions of the communities of Bloomington, Colton, Fontana, Rialto, San Bernardino, and Jurupa Valley. For the past 54 years, our mission at the West Valley Water District has been to provide a reliable, safe drinking water supply to meet our customers’ present and future needs at a reasonable cost and to promote water-use efficiency and conservation. To continue to do so, we have invested in innovative technologies to make current groundwater sources safer and more productive. To date, we have six water treatment plants, including four perchlorate treatment systems, one of which is the FBR.
Perchlorate, the culprit of water contamination discovered in the Rialto-Colton groundwater basin in 1997, was a remnant of prior agricultural, industrial, and military activity in the area. This oxygen-rich chemical is used in rocket fuel, fireworks, and other similar explosive materials1 and has been found to be toxic to the thyroid gland at high exposures.2 Shortly after discovering perchlorate in the basin in 1998, the District chose to shut down several wells to avoid exposure to the drinking water supply. In 2005, ion exchange systems were installed to begin treatment on wells with low levels of perchlorate; however, these systems are expensive to operate. Thus, the District investigated in new ways to more effectively remove perchlorate at a greater concentration. Our unique desire to remain focused on developing a strategy to treat the contaminated water to register non-detectable levels of perchlorate, rather than attempt to clean-up the chemical source area allowed us to develop this innovative solution in partnership with Envirogen Technologies, Inc. based in Texas.
FBRs have been employed in other parts of the country to remove perchlorate for discharge to surface water or to recharge groundwater, however FBRs had previously never been utilized to directly produce potable water until now. In 2002, the California Department of Health Services issued conditional acceptance to West Valley Water District for “biological treatment as a means of removing perchlorate from source waters for distribution as a part of the public water supply.” This type of treatment does not use harmful chemicals and instead uses naturally-occurring microbes in water to withdraw oxygen from perchlorate, which destroys it. After a pilot study and rigorous testing to inform development of a full-scale project, construction of the Groundwater Wellhead Treatment System began in May 2011.
Envirogen Technologies Inc. designed and built the treatment system. The majority of funding for the project was provided by Proposition 84, the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006 ($10 million); State Water Resources Control Board ($3 million); and Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board Cleanup and Abatement Account Fund ($2.6 million).
Five years after construction began, the final permit for the plant was granted by the State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water in May 2016. Making environmental history, on September 22, 2016, Chief Treatment Plant Operator, Sergio Granda, opened the valve to the Groundwater Wellhead Treatment System to release water to our water distribution system for the first time. Since, the system has been successfully providing water to approximately 16,000 of our customers on a daily basis.
A project of this magnitude was critically needed to provide the community of Rialto with a solution to a water pollution problem in the midst of the California drought. The West Valley Water District’s Groundwater Wellhead Treatment System produces an essential public resource utilizing existing technology in an innovative way.
It also serves to showcase the importance of special districts. Because we can provide a single, specialized service, we are able to focus on excelling in our area of expertise: water.
References: 1 United Stated Environmental Protection Agency (2014). 2 Technical Fact Sheet – Perchlorate. 3 Ibid.
Photos: Lauren Albrecht, Research Analyst, West Valley Water District