Orange County's groundwater fares well with new EPA arsenic regulation

The Orange County Water District announced it is ready to meet the new EPA standard of 10 ppb of arsenic in drinking water.

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif., Jan. 18, 2001 (BUSINESS WIRE) — The Orange County Water District announced it is ready to meet the new EPA standard of 10 ppb of arsenic in drinking water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reduced the drinking water standard for arsenic, a naturally occurring substance found in groundwater, from 50 parts per billion (ppb) (or 50 micrograms per liter) down to 10 ppb or 10 micrograms in one liter of water.

Drinking water wells in Orange County contain an average of 2-3 ppb or micrograms per liter of water.

Practically all Orange County drinking water wells, about 99.5% of them, have less than 10 ppb of arsenic. Only two active drinking water wells have arsenic above 10 ppb, but all below 15 ppb. The two wells with natural arsenic above 10 ppb will blend the groundwater with water from other sources to achieve levels below 10 ppb to protect public health.

The EPA was required by the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 to finalize a new drinking water standard for arsenic in 2001.

According to the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), the water industry organization that includes most if not all Orange County water agencies, the EPA's own scientific advisory group recommended additional research be conducted and evaluated before setting this new lower standard.

"While the new EPA standard of 10 ppb is more than protective of public health, additional research is required to provide accurate scientific data on the effects of low levels of arsenic in drinking water in order to set a proper standard," according to William R. Mills, general manager of Orange County Water District (OCWD). OCWD is the agency that manages the county's groundwater basin.

Mills is also the chairman of the ACWA water quality committee and has been called upon in the past to testify before the U.S. Congress on water quality issues affecting California and the rest of the nation.

A cost of compliance study on new arsenic standards estimated the new standard of 10 ppb would cost the California water industry approximately $500 million in new capital projects to treat for arsenic and $72 million a year to pay for financing and maintenance and operation of the new treatment facilities. National costs are estimated by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) at $600 million annually with $6 billion in initial capital costs. Due to the low levels of arsenic in Orange County, the new ruling will have a negligible effect on the cost of groundwater.

Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in rocks, soil, water, air, plants and animals.

The Orange County Water District is a special water agency created by the California Legislature in 1933 to maintain and manage the huge groundwater basin under northern Orange County.

The groundwater basin managed by OCWD supplies 75% of the water needs to more than 2 million residents in the cities of Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster and Yorba Linda.

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