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Drinking Water Vanishing

Jan 28, 2003 | Pasadena Star News Groundwater contamination is depleting the San Gabriel Valley's supply of drinking water, according to a report expected to be released today.

Officials from the Environment California Research and Policy Center say contamination from industrial manufacturers has made billions of gallons of water undrinkable.

This, on top of cuts made to water imported from the Colorado River, is exacerbating the water shortage.

"When cuts to the Colorado River were made on Jan. 1, we felt like part of the puzzle that was not being talked about was the volumes of water that California could be using if it was not contaminated,' said Sujatha Jahagirdar, of Environment California. "So we did some digging and found out that billions of gallons of water each year are unusable due to groundwater contamination.'

The contamination of Valley water comes at a price tag of $390 million to clean up, the report states.

Statewide, about 70 billion gallons of water are unusable. That's enough to supply 400,000 families for a year, and if usable, would replace more than one-third of the water California is losing because of its inability to cut back on its draw from the Colorado River, according to Environment California.

In the San Gabriel Valley, the lost water is enough to supply more than 250,000 families a year, according to the report.

At least 50 wells have been shut down in the San Gabriel Valley due to cancer and disease-causing chemicals including perchlorate, a component of solid rocket fuel that has been linked to thyroid disorders, Jahagirdar said.

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency has cited Aerojet/GenCorp as the primary contributor of perchlorate. Workers at its former Azusa plant allegedly dumped large quantities of the hazardous chemical during the 1940s, when the plant produced rockets.

There are more than 100 known polluters responsible for tainted water in four federal Superfund sites in the San Gabriel Valley, yet only about 20 companies have signed a cleanup agreement for one of the Superfund sites.

Area water officials say some of the cleanup projects throughout the Valley have already started. It could take up to 30 years to clean the area.

The Environment California report offers several recommendations, including legislation expected to be introduced next month that would provide more monitoring and earlier warnings to water suppliers of approaching contamination.

"They should deal with contamination way before wells have to be shut down so that public health isn't compromised and so that you can prevent the expense and uncertainty of having to import water,' Jahagirdar said. Jahagirdar said the nonprofit, nonpartisan research group also wants to see governments put more teeth into cleanup laws and force polluters to be held financially accountable.

The head of the San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority said Monday she would like to see more investigations to determine where the pollution is coming from and who is responsible, but doubts funding is available.

The state's regional water quality board, like other agencies statewide, has had its budget slashed. It's had to re-prioritize its projects, and investigations have been hampered, officials said.

"To recommend is one thing, but somebody's going to have to help fund it,' said Grace Burgess, executive director of the San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority. "The regulatory agencies want to do more, but they can't because of cuts everywhere.'

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