Article courtesy of Lou Ponsi| May 4, 2015 | The Orange County Register | Shared as educational material
The Environmental Protection Agency soon could take the lead in cleaning up a contaminated groundwater basin beneath Anaheim and Fullerton, a move that could reopen a long-running dispute over who should pay for getting pollutants out of an area that threatens wells used for drinking water.
Officials from the Orange County Water District said Monday the agency is talking with federal officials and that a decision could be reached within a month.
Local water officials are seeking guidance from the EPA because federal scientists have technical experience with this type of cleanup project.
The contaminated aquifer is an underground layer of water in the northern part of the Orange County Groundwater Basin. It runs hundreds of feet below ground from State College Boulevard to Brookhurst Street, and Commonwealth to La Palma avenues.
At least one city official in Fullerton is worried that if the contamination isn’t cleaned up, the county’s biggest source of drinking water could be threatened. Though wells currently aren’t affected, tainted water previously destroyed three drinking-water wells.
“It is imperative that we keep track of how the contamination is moving, which is very, very difficult,” said Jan Flory, a Fullerton councilwoman and a member of the water district’s board.
If the EPA becomes involved, it would conduct a remedial investigation to identify the contaminants before assessing potential health risks and determine total cleanup costs, said Nahal Mogharabi, EPA spokeswoman.
Federal regulators also might seek to identify businesses to pick up the costs for a long-term cleanup. One reason water district officials are talking with the EPA is because the federal agency has the authority to require contributors to pay.
“Part of that investigation would include a search for those responsible for the contamination. EPA makes every effort to ensure those responsible for the contamination pay for the investigation and cleanup,” Mogharabi said.
More than a decade ago, the Orange County Water District accused manufacturing businesses in the area of long ago dumping contaminants into the ground that seeped into the shallow aquifer.
The district was paid $21.4 million in settlements by nine businesses. Since then, nearly that amount has been spent in legal fees and cleanup evaluations. Businesses are fearful that if the EPA gets involved, the agency will seek more money from them, Flory said.
If the EPA takes over, the cleanup could take more than 40 years, water district officials said. In 2012, the water district said it could cost nearly $150 million, but William Hunt, executive director of operations for the water district, said Monday the bill for a cleanup is really unknown.
“It’s of a big scale for sure,” he said.
The cleanup would likely be paid for by a variety of sources, Hunt said, including parties responsible for the contamination, federal grants and ratepayers within the water district.