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State, MWD Widen Water Pollution Tests

March 31, 1985|United Press International

SACRAMENTO — The Department of Water Resources is widening the scope of its tests of Northern California water shipped to Southern California via the State Water Project to check for pollutants.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves most of the Southland's urban area, is also increasing scrutiny of its water, most of which comes from the Colorado River. Los Angeles uses some MWD water, but relies mostly on its own supply from Mono and Inyo counties.

Bill Mitchell, a senior water quality engineer for the Department of Water Resources, said Friday that sediments in storage reservoirs will be checked for "pesticides, other organic materials and minerals, including selenium."

Tissue Sample Tests

He said tissue samples will be taken from fish in the California Aqueduct and in the department's reservoirs in Southern California. "We want an assurance that things in fish tissue are not approaching official-action levels," Mitchell said.

The crisis over the selenium-tainted Kesterson Wildlife Refuge in Merced County has raised concern over the Northern California water supplied by the State Water Project.

Part of the water comes from the San Joaquin River, which flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Bill Davoren, director of the San Francisco Bay Institute, said Friday that farm wastewater from about 77,000 acres of land on the western side of the San Joaquin Valley drains into the river. He said selenium probably had been entering the San Joaquin for many years before the Kesterson crisis arose.

The MWD gets a relatively small portion of its water from this source.

MWD Also Concerned

In Los Angeles, MWD spokeswoman Pat Messigian said Friday that selenium content of the Colorado River water also is a matter of concern.

She said tests of MWD water supplied from the Colorado in January showed selenium contents of 4 to 6 parts per billion, while tests of water coming in from the north at the same time showed no detectable selenium content.

Messigian emphasized that tests for selenium of both water from the north and water from the Colorado have always been below the federal government's action level of 10 parts per billion.

She said the frequency of tests for selenium will be stepped up sharply, and henceforth the MWD will be testing its water for 90 different types of pesticides compared to six at present.

Raises Questions

Mitchell said the Department of Water Resources decision to test sediments and fish tissue is a response to questions raised by Carla Bard, former chairwoman of the state Water Resources Control Board. She has charged that department and MWD testing programs have not taken into account the possibility of accumulation of selenium in fish and birds.

Messigian said the MWD's stepped-up tests for selenium in MWD water "have been under consideration for several months."

"We're doing it because there's a great deal of public concern," she said.

She said the MWD has no current plan for testing for accumulation of pollutants in fish.

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