EPA Involved in Groundwater Cleanup


 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has assumed lead responsibility for the cleanup of contamination impacting a region of the Orange County water basin. The Orange County Water District (OCWD) supports this effort and will provide assistance to the EPA as needed.

 The EPA’s action is expected to significantly enhance efforts to remove toxic chemicals from this important source of water to Orange County. Ensuring we can utilize all of the water from a fully functional groundwater basin not only protects public health, but also ensures the long-term economic viability of all of Orange County.

 In a recent letter to state and regional environmental offices announcing its decision, the EPA stated it “understands the vital importance of groundwater resources for meeting the drinking water needs of Orange County, where the groundwater basin supplies water to 19 cities and approximately 2.4 million residents. As groundwater becomes even more invaluable during this period of severe drought, EPA recognizes the necessity of preserving clean drinking water resources to continue to meet the current and future drinking water needs of southern California.”

 Because it recognizes the significance of the contamination issue and the impact of pollution on an important water supply, the EPA will use its legal authority to determine the extent of the contamination, explore options for and select a remediation plan, and pursue opportunities for cost recovery from parties responsible for the contamination.


 The problem

In the northern section of OCWD’s groundwater basin (under Fullerton, Anaheim, Placentia), portions of the shallow and principal aquifers are impacted with volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. From the late 1950s through early 1980s, VOCs were used for industrial degreasing in metals and electronics manufacturing.

 Slide-size 2013 ShallowPrincipal VOC w prod well locations

Although the shallow aquifer is not directly being used to pump for drinking water supplies, groundwater in this aquifer eventually flows into the deeper principal aquifer, which is used for this purpose.

To date, four production wells in the North Basin have been removed from service due to VOC contamination.  It is urgent, therefore, to remove the higher levels of contamination from the shallow aquifer before it has a chance to further contaminate the main aquifer.

OCWD and local water agencies continue to monitor the contamination plume and water supplies to ensure only clean water is delivered to homes and businesses.

State agencies have been working near the source areas to remove VOCs that continue to leach into the underlying aquifer.


OCWD’s role

For more than a decade, OCWD has been working with elected leaders, regulators, community groups and water agencies to address this contamination issue. OCWD had previously conducted investigations and developed initial plans for a remediation program. This information will be shared with EPA to assist the agency with its own investigation and remediation development process.

OCWD will support the EPA throughout the process to encourage significant involvement and collaboration between elected leaders, water agencies, community groups and regulators in open and transparent settings. OCWD will continue to work with county, state and federal authorities to ensure the most reliable and cost-effective solutions are put in place.


What’s next?

The EPA will initiate a “Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study.” This effort will evaluate the nature and extent of contamination, and identify and evaluate potential interim remedial actions to prevent further degradation of area groundwater and protect down-gradient drinking water wells.

EPA has promised a robust public participation process and said it plans to meet soon with interested Orange County stakeholders.

One potential result of its investigation is that the EPA determines the North Basin contamination site should be added to the National Priorities List – commonly referred to as a Superfund site. This framework is used in states across the country to bring together stakeholders, regulators and elected leaders to clean up contamination and pollution. It has the potential to allow for federal funds, along with monies received from responsible parties, to be used for the cleanup.


OCWD will continue to provide information on this issue as it becomes available.