COACHELLA, Calif. - Coachella Valley Water District customers have avoided a $250 million dollar bill.
It's in part to a judge's ruling, also due to some brand new technology that's removing a naturally occurring contaminant from our ground water.
Those same customers were looking at monthly water bills, which might have doubled or more over the years to come to remove Chromium-6.
Local water agencies have been struggling to meet the costly new state drinking water standards for Chromium-6.
It's found in some local water wells, due to Serpentine rocks.
Chromium-6 (Hexavalent chromium) is believed to be carcinogenic, but at what levels remains up for debate.
Approximately a third, 4,156 of California's 12,237 monitored drinking water wells, have Chromium-6 in them according to the State Water Resources Control Board . Many are inland along earthquake faults.
406 wells have Chromium-6 levels at or above the state's proposed maximum contaminant limit of 10 parts per billion.
Riverside County has 47-Chromium-6 wells, second only to Los Angeles County's 57 wells, and San Bernardino County's 34. They'd all have to be treated to meet the state's new 10 parts per billion standard. It's currently five-times higher at 50 parts per billion.
In October, the Coachella Valley Water District came within days of approving a $250 million project to build a series of Chromium-6 treatment plants for 29 of its impacted wells.
Board Chair John Powell, Jr. said, "We identified that as one of the most costly public works projects in the history of the valley." Powell said, "We let the state know that. That didn't seem to impact them too much."
The water district probably won't have to build any of that now because of this new test project.
Steve Bigley is the Coachella Valley Water District's Environmental Director. Bigley said, "It's exceeding our expectations and we're excited to begin the next phase of this test."
The trailer pictured above is tucked away at one of the district's water wells and is testing a new treatment method which uses a food additive to remove Chromium-6 from the water. So far, it's working.
Bigley said, "The additive is called Stannis Chloride. It's been used by other water districts for years."
The Stannis Chloride Converts Chromium-6 to Chromium-3, an essential nutrient and something you can find in the health food store vitamin aisle.
Powell said, "Instead of spending the $250 million we thought we were going to need to spend under the original process, with this alternative we're looking at maybe 10 percent of that. Maybe less than that."
Most of the daily water we use is for watering lawns, doing the laundry and washing dishes, flushing toilets or simply goes down the drain.
La Quinta resident and clean water activist Mark Johnson says even with the big water savings, it would be wiser to treat a questionable but growing list of water contaminants at the tap.
Johnson said, "Why treat 95 percent of the water that's going down the drain or on your lawn."
Johnson retired after serving as CVWD's Chief Engineer for more than a decade. He spent his career developing water treatment systems nationwide. Surveying his water efficient yard, he says California needs to take a time-out on passing any new regulations until the science is settled.
"In some cases, it could be wasted money unless they look at this a little more carefully," Johnson said.
Powell said, "My experience with the state of California is that if they have an opportunity to regulate something they're probably going to do that."
But in June, a judge rejected California's new standard for Chromium-6 in water, just 10 parts per billion. It was set to take effect in 2020, but the judge ordered the state to consider the huge cost to water districts and their customers to pay for new treatment plants.
Still, the water district believes there will be a new standard for Chromium-6 at some point.
"And this testing we're doing will give us information we need to know if we're going to be able to meet it at whatever level it ends up being," said Bigley.
This testing has already paid off with a rate hike CVWD customers didn't see this year.
Rick Bacon, CEO of Aqua Metrology Systems, says Stannis Chloride is one of the new water treatment systems made possible by his company's online real-time monitoring.
Results for water samples are returned immediately instead of taking water samples to labs and getting results back in weeks.
Bacon says his company is interested and developing another system, even cheaper than Stannis Chloride, and this new tech is opening new pathways to solving other contaminant problems including arsenic and selenium.
Johnson is urging people to write the State Attorney General's Office and the Water Control Board telling them to take a time-out on new water regulations.
You can find out more information on Johnson's website and how you can write the state at www.cvh2go.com.
The Coachella Valley Water District has received state permission to conduct a full-scale water well test serving treated water to some customers. Those test results should be back by year's end.