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WATER STORAGE UNDER WAY AQUEDUCT HELPING REPLENISH VALLEY SUPPLY.

Byline: Charles F. Bostwick Staff Writer

LANCASTER - Millions of gallons of California Aqueduct water are being pumped down wells in an effort to store water for drought years and to replenish the Antelope Valley's declining underground aquifer.

Los Angeles County Waterworks officials began Oct. 28 pulling water from its distribution pipeline system and sending it down three Lancaster wells, with a fourth well to be added this month, officials said.

``This is water that would otherwise have just run to waste,'' said Adam Ariki, assistant division engineer.

By May or June - depending on when Antelope Valley residents' water use rises with the arrival of warm weather - officials hope to pump underground 300 million to 500 million gallons: 1,000 to 1,500 acre-feet or more, enough to supply 1,000 to 1,500 homes for a year.

``We're really, really happy with what they are doing. This is the tip of the iceberg for what we need to do,'' said Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency general manager Russ Fuller, whose agency is supplying the aqueduct water and who has been pushing for more wet-winter storage.

California's wet 2004-05 weather - the wettest winter in Los Angeles in more than 120 years - means that the State Water Project can supply millions of gallons more than AVEK's customers want to use, Fuller said.

The agency expects to deliver about 63,000 acre-feet this year to farmers and to the water districts that supply homes and businesses.

If there was a way to keep it, AVEK could supply at least an additional 50,000 acre-feet this winter for storage, Fuller said.

``We hope in a couple years we'll see many projects like the county has put together,'' he said.

The waterworks' storage project comes as Antelope Valley well pumping increases from population growth and a resurgence in farming. A legal battle is already under way involving local water districts, farmers and property owners over the rights to pump well water.

To end an unofficial moratorium on getting waterworks officials' permission for new housing tracts, home builders in west Palmdale, much of Lancaster and other areas covered by the waterworks district began last January paying a new fee for storing water underground.

Waterworks customers' bills also were hiked this year.

The well injection has been approved for five years by regional water quality officials. They will review reports from monitoring wells about the aqueduct water's impact on groundwater quality and will re-evaluate the project in five years, said Hisam Baqai, supervising engineer for the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Board in Victorville.

Of concern are substances called trihalomethanes, which are created when organic material in the aqueduct water come in contact with chlorine used for disinfection.

Trihalomethanes at high levels have been linked to bladder cancer and reproductive harm in laboratory animals, as well as to a birth defect called spina bifida and to miscarriages.

The injected water's trihalomethane level is well below the federal limit for drinking water, but it is above that of well water - which typically contains zero, officials say. AVEK is modifying its treatment plant to reduce the trihalomethane level further.

The aqueduct water is being injected into county wells near Avenue M and 7th Street West and at Avenue K-8 and 5th Street West, an area where well pumping has caused the underground water level to drop appreciably.

The so-called ``pumping depression'' means that the injected aqueduct water is expected to stay in that area, not spread out into other areas.

``There is a high volume of aquifer that has been drained and is ready to take water,'' Ariki said.

Waterworks officials say their goal is to minimize the use of well water and maximize the use of water imported from Northern California through the aqueduct.

One reality is cost: Well water doesn't require purification and costs only the electricity to pump it out of the ground.

AVEK is charging the waterworks district $135 an acre-foot, a $90 discount from the normal winter rate. Next summer, the rate for treated water will jump to $306 an acre-foot.

That compares to about $120 an acre-foot for the electrical bill for pumping well water, which the waterworks district will still face when it goes to remove the injected water in later years, Ariki said.

However, county officials say more well water is being pumped than is replenished naturally by rainfall, though exactly how much more is subject to dispute.

Pumping too much water causes the aquifer where it has been stored to collapse, which in some areas of the Antelope Valley has led to the ground level falling by several feet over the last century.

``The basin isn't a sponge. It doesn't bounce back. Once you do the damage it's done,'' Ariki said.

Charles F. Bostwick, (661) 267-5742

chuck.bostwick(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 7, 2005
Words:800
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