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Environment & Science

Boeing unveils new biofilter at Santa Susana site to control stormwater

Woolsey Canyon Road leads to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.
Woolsey Canyon Road leads to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

Rocket research has rocketed away from the former Santa Susana Field Laboratory site, but its marks remain in the land there, in the form of chemical residue and low-level radioactive contamination. One of the many ways the site’s owners need to keep pollutants away from people and nature is through their management of stormwater runoff.

Today the Boeing Company’s showing off a $600,000 “biofilter” project. According to the company-produced Santa Susana Newsletter from last fall, it looks like a  “beautifully landscaped island.”

The biofilter’s part of a stormwater control system that captures runoff from a four-and-a-half acre parking lot. The water goes into a tank below the lot, where silt and bigger chunks of debris can settle out (and presumably trash can get skimmed off). It’s pumped to a basin where more sediment can settle out, then flows into a basin in which native plants, soil, and “filter media” (anything from rocks to fabric) clean the runoff.

Boeing developed the filtration system by working with academics and scientists, including Mike Josselyn, a professor emeritus at San Francisco State. Boeing says Josselyn will use the biofilter as a teaching tool at UCLA.

Santa Susana sits in Ventura’s watershed; three years ago, the regional water quality control board in Ventura passed a set of stormwater rules that promoted these and other controls called, generally, “green infrastructure” or “low-impact development.” Boeing has to monitor for 85 pollutants, metals and toxins at about a dozen places around its patch of the Santa Susana property.

The company is doing all sorts of more specialized cleanup at that site: treating and pulling out contaminated soil, monitoring groundwater via wells and treating it, and seeding contaminated land with native plants, grasses and vegetation that can pull some contamination out of the soil through the normal plant process called “uptake.”

Southern California's going to see more of this kind of stormwater control as green infrastructure catches on. Maybe not all of it will cost half a million dollars, but it'll be interesting to start seeing what works and what does not.