The Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) and the city of Orange began operating four treatment plants constructed in Orange to remove per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from local well water.
PFAS are a group of thousands of manmade, heat-resistant chemicals that are prevalent in the environment and are commonly used in consumer products to repel water, grease and oil. Due to their prolonged use, PFAS are being detected in water sources throughout the United States, including the Orange County Groundwater Basin, which supplies 77% of the water supply to 2.5 million people in north and central Orange County. Despite playing no role in releasing PFAS into the environment, water providers must find ways to remove it from their local water supplies.
Construction of the Orange facilities took about a year to complete and are among 36 PFAS treatment facilities being designed and constructed in Orange County over the next two years. OCWD is funding 100% of design and construction costs and 50% of operation and maintenance costs for all facilities.
“OCWD’s committed staff works tirelessly to address PFAS in the Orange County Groundwater Basin,” said OCWD Director Denis Bilodeau. “Thanks to the strong partnerships with our retail providers, Orange County’s water supply remains among the highest quality in the nation. I commend our staff for working closely with the city of Orange to quickly and successfully complete these facilities.”
Orange, one of 19 water providers that pump water from the groundwater basin, had eight of its groundwater wells impacted by PFAS, prompting it to temporarily shut down those wells and transition to purchasing imported water from the Colorado River and Northern California. These wells are among dozens of wells throughout Orange County that were removed from service in 2020 after the state of California lowered the Response Level advisories of PFOA and PFOS; two legacy PFAS compounds no longer produced in the United States.
Using an Ion Exchange (IX) treatment system made of highly porous resin that acts like powerful magnets that adsorb and hold onto contaminants, the facilities can treat up to 7,500 gallons of water per minute combined. During treatment, contaminants such as PFAS are removed from the water before it goes into the distribution system.
OCWD and 10 Orange County public water agencies filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of PFAS, seeking to protect ratepayers and ensure that the associated costs, including but not limited to treatment and replacement water, are borne by the companies that developed and manufactured PFAS.