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State Orders U.S. to Build Kesterson Cleanup Dump

March 19, 1987|United Press International

SACRAMENTO — The state Water Resources Control Board today rejected less expensive plans set forth by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and ordered the federal agency to build a 64-acre dump to house contaminated mud and vegetation at the polluted Kesterson Wildlife Refuge.

The bureau won a six-month extension of the time for getting the work done. The water board, which originally wanted the cleanup completed by February, 1988, agreed to push the deadline to August, 1988.

Kesterson, a 6,000-acre refuge for waterfowl 12 miles north of Los Banos in Merced County, made the news in mid-1983 with the discovery of numerous deaths and deformities among birds nesting there.

Scientists blamed the loss of ducks, coots and other birds on selenium, a trace element carried into Kesterson's ponds with waste irrigation water from farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

The Reclamation Bureau supplies water to growers in the region and used Kesterson's ponds as a sump for the agricultural waste water. The water board in February, 1985, ordered the Reclamation Bureau to draw up a cleanup plan.

Construction of the clay-lined toxic dump will cost about $26.9 million, said Susan Hoffman, the bureau's project manager for the Kesterson cleanup. She said the Interior Department will ask Congress for $14.7 million for the current 1987 fiscal year and another $12.2 million for the next fiscal year.

In deciding on construction of the dump, the water board rejected two less costly cleanup plans proposed by the bureau.

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