Local water supplies impacted by new state guidance on PFAS

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LAKE ELSINORE – The California State Water Resource Control Board issued new drinking water guidelines recently, lowering the trigger levels for responses by local water systems to 10 ppt for perfluorooctanoic acid and 40 ppt for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. The new guidelines, known as response levels, are among the lowest in the nation. One part-per-trillion is the equivalent of one drop of water in the Rose Bowl Stadium.

Though sampling indicated levels of PFOS and PFOA in a couple of local sources of water, Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District is currently not producing drinking water from impacted sources. EVMWD is evaluating options to meet these new regulations including importing water to offset local supplies and in the long term, considering construction of treatment systems if water sources exceed state mandated response levels.

“Our No. 1 priority is providing clean, reliable drinking water to our customers,” Andy Morris, president of the EVMWD board of directors, said. “We are exploring all options for treating or replacing the water supplies impacted by these chemicals, as well as the evaluating the long-term impacts.”

Around the world, people have been exposed to PFOA and PFOS through many consumer products, such as makeup, dental floss, food containers, nonstick cookware, carpets and other items used every day. Part of a larger family of chemicals – PFAS – PFOA and PFOS have historically been used heavily in manufacturing. Water districts don’t put these chemicals into water, but over time they have entered water supplies through runoff, firefighting foam, landfills and manufacturing.

Exposure to these chemicals at certain levels can cause health impacts, but the exact level is still unknown. The science is evolving, and experts throughout the country continue to grapple with what levels are acceptable in drinking water.

Now, with new response levels in place, water districts are faced with the high cost of treating or replacing local water supplies.

“It’s paramount that water remain affordable, and so we urge state and federal regulators to rely on the best available science when making decisions that have a significant impact on our ability to supply clean and affordable water,” Morris said.

California issued monitoring orders 2019 for PFOA and PFOS to more than 200 public water agencies, including EVWMD. These chemicals were found in local water supplies without surpassing the prior response level. Under the new response levels, one source was found to exceed response levels and water from this source will not be served. To replace the currently impacted source, the cost to EVMWD and its customers could be significant.

New response levels in California also have the unintended consequence of driving up reliance on imported water supplies to meet demands. To meet the state’s advised levels, EVMWD and many other water agencies must rely on costlier imported water that can replace or blend with impacted local water supplies.

The district said water quality is critical to their mission as a water district. As part of the district’s commitment to clean water, EVMWD analyzes water via a stringent process that involves more than 17,000 tests per year for more than 250 different compounds, such as arsenic and radioactive elements.

Submitted by Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District.