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Hopes High for Aquifer Cleanup Plan : State Action Could Give South County 1.8 Billion Gallons of Water

Times Staff Writer

A proposal to clean up a polluted underground water basin, which could make available 1.8 billion extra gallons of water each year for south Orange County, stands a good chance of getting funding from a state water board, authorities said Monday.

The water would come from surface and underground flows of San Juan Creek, which runs roughly parallel to Ortega Highway from high in the Santa Ana Mountains, through San Juan Capistrano and into the ocean in Dana Point, said T.J. Meadows, general manager of the San Juan Basin Authority in south Orange County.

Water in the San Juan Creek aquifer has been unusable for drinking water since 1963, when accumulations of iron, manganese and other minerals were found. The San Juan Basin Authority is seeking a study of ways to remove the contaminants and make the water usable again, Meadows said.

Their request, he said, has been ranked “No. 1 in California to receive funding” by the state Water Resources Board, putting the plan ahead of 40 other water improvement projects sought in California, including a study to clean up San Diego Bay and a water management plan for the Santa Ana River.

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The state board is expected to make a decision July 21 on whether to grant $93,750 for the project, said basin officials, adding that local agencies would have to contribute $31,250 to the study. The proposal likely would involve installation of filtration systems.

Restoration of the San Juan Creek basin would “create a significant new water supply” for parts of the south county, relieving the present total dependence on costly imported water from the Colorado River and Northern California, Meadows said.

The estimated 1.8 billion gallons of water, or 5,500 acre-feet of water, could annually serve about 20,000 people, or roughly 10% of the population in the basin authority’s area, which includes the Santa Margarita, Moulton Niguel, Capistrano Valley and Capistrano Beach Water districts.

Bill Knitz, president of the basin authority, said restoration of the San Juan Creek underground basin, which covers a drainage area of 100 square miles and is the largest self-contained basin in the county, could mean cheaper water than current imports from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

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