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EPA Wants Super Agency to Handle Water Cleanup


SACRAMENTO — Federal environmental authorities are urging designation of a single local "super agency" to take charge of cleaning up the San Gabriel Valley's contaminated well water.

The idea of a local super agency to coordinate cleanup efforts was suggested in a three-page report, released here recently, on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's analysis of the valley's polluted water.

"We've been suffering from a lack of leadership," said John Wise, EPA deputy regional administrator who endorsed the super agency plan.

"Without that driving force," cleanup efforts will fail, said Wise, whose agency has spent $10 million investigating pollution in the San Gabriel Valley water basin.

His comments came as federal, state and local officials met here late last month to seek a unified strategy to improve water quality in the basin, which serves 1 million people.

Several members of the state Water Resources Control Board embraced the proposal, although they said legislation might be required to create a new agency or expand the authority of an existing one.

But some valley water officials expressed skepticism.

"There's a fear of another agency on top of existing ones," said Burton E. Jones, president of the Upper San Gabriel Valley Water Municipal Water District.

In the federal report, EPA officials caution that if one agency is not given broad authority to clean up water pollution, "EPA may be unable to implement necessary remedial actions even if . . . funding is available."

A month ago, local political and water officials agreed to form a task force to hasten action against water pollution. At the time, Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park) blamed EPA for delays.

In 1979, high levels of water pollution, partly the result of industrial solvents, were discovered in underground water supplies. Since then, EPA has determined that one-fourth of the 400 wells in the area are contaminated. Because of that, the agency has placed the San Gabriel Valley on its Superfund list and has studied the problem extensively.

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