$1.8M goes to Hinkley School water system
February 02, 2012 5:11 PM
KATIE LUCIA, Staff Writer

HINKLEY • The regional water board signed a $3.6 million agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric on Wednesday night, dedicating half of that money to build a new water filtration system at the Hinkley School.

The settlement was concerning PG&E’s violation of their cleanup order requiring them to contain the rapidly growing plume of water that’s contaminated by chromium 6, a cancer-causing metal, said Lauri Kemper, assistant executive officer of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

PG&E pushed to have as much of that settlement money given to the community as possible, according to company spokesman Jeff Smith. They decided on a water system for the school after community members voiced concerns about the facility’s quality of water. Currently PG&E supplies bottled water to the school to address those concerns.

“It’s good to see the school got (that money) so they can put a new water system up there and take care of the kids,” said Hinkley resident Jim Dodd, who serves on the community advisory committee. “It’s just nice to see something getting done.”

Barstow Unified School District Interim Superintendent Jeff Malan said the district was excited about the news and looked forward to working with PG&E and the water board.

PG&E is responsible for cleanup and containment of the contamination of chromium 6 that leaked into the groundwater from PG&E’s cooling towers in the 1960s.

The water board, which is overseeing the cleanup, issued a notice of violation to PG&E in 2009 after the company found the contamination was on the move, Kemper said. In the last three months alone the plume has extended more than one mile, she said.

The company maintains there was no actual violation, Smith said, as the change in plume boundary is due to new information gathered from recently installed monitoring wells rather than actual migration.

While Kemper agrees there may have been contamination not previously discovered in the area, she said there is substantial evidence the contamination is in fact migrating north.

The notice was issued after PG&E found one of their monitoring wells was reading higher levels of chromium 6, Kemper said. The well, located on Alcudia Road, used to read less than the maximum background level of 3.1 parts per billion, but increased to 9.5 parts per billion. Increased chromium 6 levels were also found in private wells, she said.

Kemper said the contamination is growing primarily because the groundwater naturally moves north. Additionally, individual pumps may be pulling the water in that direction.

Had the two not reached a settlement, the board could have imposed a maximum fine of $5.5 million or recommended the case to the state Attorney General’s office. In either case, all of the money would have gone to the state water board’s fund and none to the community.

PG&E and the water board will be hosting a meeting to describe the settlement agreement and hear public comments on the matter. The meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Hinkley School, 37600 Hinkley Road

Katie Lucia may be reached at (760) 256-4123 or KLucia@DesertDispatch.com.

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