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Biofilter project nearing completion in Santa Maria

Work is ongoing for a new biofilter project at Jim May Park in Santa Maria. Once completed, the biofilter will treat nitrate-rich water from nearby agricultural runoff.

“It’s an opportunity for us to take water out of the Bradley Channel and put it into a bioreactor with wood chips, where the niatrates that are in the water are turned into a harmless nitrogen gas,” said Santa Maria Director of Utilities Shad Springer.

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The $1.5 million dollar project began construction this past September. Located directly behind Taylor Elementary school, the project will help protect the groundwater supply by filtering out harmful nitrates.

“In a lot of instances, agricultural runoff has nitrate from fertilizer,” Springer said. “That nitrate, when it’s in the water, perks into our groundwater basin and creates issues, so the idea is to remove that nitrate prior to entering the groundwater.”

Springer emphasizes drinking water in Santa Maria is currently safe to drink and meets all state and federal safety standards.

“For the overall basin, it’s the same groundwater that’s used for irrigating crops that’s used for drinking water across the Santa Maria Valley, so the intent is to maintain the quality of that water,” Springer said. “This is just an opportunity to improve the quality of water in the basin.”

The project will be paid through a $1.25 million grant the City received from the State Water Control Board. Additional funding comes from the Proposition 84 Agricultural Water Quality Grant Program.

According to the City, the biofilter is expected to last about 20 years. It is the first of its kind in Santa Maria and will be seen as an “experimental project.”

“It’s a way for us to demonstrate how that nitrate is being removed from the runoff water,” said Springer. “The intent of the regulators is that if this project works well as a demonstration, other agencies or farmer or ranchers could use this same type of system on their property to reduce runoff.”

The project is also expected to have a beneficial impact on the adjacent lake. Earlier this year, the lake experienced a significant amount of fish die during the summer months.

“It will also help the opportunity for algal blooms, which can happen in warm weather, which we see in late summer at the park,” Springer said.

The biofilter is expected to be completed by spring 2017.

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