It will be a while longer before the City of San Fernando will reopen one of its four wells that draws water from the Sylmar groundwater basin. A treatment system to remove harmful nitrates found in the well is currently undergoing safety testing.
The system in the closed well — known as Well 3, which shut down more than a decade ago — has been installed and is being tested for its effectiveness before water can start being delivered to San Fernando residents. The next steps for the well include flushing of the system, weekly sampling of the water and securing authorization from the Division of Drinking Water to sign off on the system.
Without authorization from the Division of Drinking Water, the well cannot be turned on to start delivering water to residents. The target goal to receive that authorization is by early September.
“Once [Well 3] is on, we’ll be able to get off of MWD [Metropolitan Water District] water,” City Manager Nick Kimball explained. “We will be back to being fully self-sufficient.”
Well 3 was shut down in 2009 due to a high concentration of nitrates — which can cause blue baby syndrome, birth defects, thyroid disease and increase the risk for certain kinds of cancer. The treatment system was purchased in 2021 for $1.6 million, but work to install it didn’t begin until the next year.
City of San Fernando officials originally estimated that Well 3 would be operational between October and December of 2022, but in February 2023, it was reported by the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol that the Division of Drinking Water asked for additional design modifications, delaying the reopen date.
Another of the City’s wells, known as Well 2A, was shut down in April 2022 also due to a high concentration of nitrates. Well 2A was the largest provider of water for San Fernando and Well 3 was the second largest.
San Fernando, the city where the valley first began, has been fortunate in having its own well system — which is considerably less expensive than purchasing water from a utility company.
With both wells shut down, though, San Fernando has had to buy water from the MWD — something it hadn’t done since 2015. Buying from MWD is twice as expensive as San Fernando using its own water, Kimball explained. However, the San Fernando City Council has been using state grant funding to pay for the MWD overages, so residents haven’t had to pay extra on their water bills.
San Fernando’s two other wells, Wells 4 and 7A, are still operational. The latter was shut down in 2007 due to a high concentration of nitrates before a treatment system was installed and it was reopened in 2018. The two combined account for 60 percent of San Fernando’s water usage under optimal conditions. Water from MWD is currently making up the difference.
Once Well 3 is online, work on Well 2A will begin. Kimball explained that they have started designing the treatment system for the well. He said he hopes that it will be operational within the next eight to 10 months.
“We’re going to be in really good shape as far as having treatment systems on all of our water wells,” Kimball said. “I think we’re going to be set up really well for the future to not have to [buy] water.”