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Pollution Wastes Lots of State's Water

Jan 28, 2003 | AP

More than 70 billion gallons of California ground water is undrinkable because of contamination by just two highly publicized pollutants, a public interest group says in a report being released today.

That's enough to supply 400,000 families for a year, and, if usable, would replace more than a 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.

Backed by the report, state Sen. Nell Soto, D-Pomona, plans to introduce legislation next month to increase water protections and require polluters to replace lost water supplies.

Environment California is a new spin-off from CalPIRG, the state's chapter of the national Public Interest Research Group. The report is the first for the group that officially splits from CalPIRG this week.

Its report catalogs estimates of contaminated water from two high-profile ground-water pollutants for which cleanup efforts are already largely underway: MTBE, a gasoline additive that trims air pollution, and perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel.

Though polluters already are often paying for cleanup, the group says that does not include many extra public costs. The city of Colton, for instance, is paying $4,000 a day to bring in drinking water, and obtained a $3 million emergency state loan to begin cleanup.

The group gathered information from eight communities on how many wells had been contaminated by the two pollutants, and how much water those wells would have produced.

Colton, with nearby Rialto, San Bernardino and Fontana, are together fighting an underground perchlorate plume that affects 75 wells and has forced closure of 20 wells that could supply 120,000 families. Soto is holding a hearing Wednesday in Sacramento of her Inland Empire Perchlorate Task Force on problems there.

The largest impact is to 50 perchlorate-contaminated wells in the San Gabriel Valley, enough to supply 250,000 families, the group said.

Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento, is fighting a plume of perchlorate from its Aerojet plant. Six affected wells there would have been enough to supply 22,000 families.

Fresno is spending $1 million to treat four wells contaminated with nitrates from fertilizer runoff. Nitrates contaminate eight wells that could supply 16,000 families.

Santa Monica and San Diego are dealing with MTBE ground-water contamination, including a plume underneath San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, where the Super Bowl was played Sunday. Ground water there isn't used for drinking now, but is in the city's long-term plans to help replace lost Colorado River water.

Santa Monica already is drawing on the Colorado River to replace MTBE-contaminated wells that could supply 13,000 families.

California's inability to plan for trimming its overuse of the Colorado River water it shares with six upstream states led to a Dec. 31 federal cutback in the state's share.

Gov. Gray Davis last week summoned negotiators from four Southern California water districts to talks brokered by top aides, talks that continued Monday behind closed doors. They're seeking a deal that would involve fallowing Imperial County farmland, with the irrigation water instead going to urban areas and to protect the environmentally sensitive Salton Sea.

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