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Public Asked to Join Water Cleanup Talks

October 21, 1990|BERKLEY HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal and local authorities, at odds over how best to remedy severe ground water pollution in the San Gabriel Basin, this month are inviting the public to wade into the complicated, highly technical debate with them.

Two hearings will focus on differences in proposals by federal environmental officials--who favor building costly central treatment facilities--and local authorities, who want to take a less expensive approach emphasizing treatment of individual wells.

Despite differing opinions on a solution, U.S. Rep. Esteban E. Torres, who is holding one of the hearings, said: "I fully expect . . . to elicit an explicit answer everyone can understand."

Torres, a La Puente Democrat, chairs the House of Representatives' environment and labor subcommittee of the Committee on Small Business. His hearing, at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Baldwin Park's City Council chambers, 14403 E. Pacific Ave., will consider federal government's role in the cleanup.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 23, 1990 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Column 6 Metro Desk 2 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Water hearing--Because of an editing error, a story that appeared Sunday in the San Gabriel Valley section of The Times incorrectly listed the date of a hearing on ground water pollution. The hearing, by a committee chaired by U.S. Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-La Puente), will take place at 9 a.m. Oct. 30 at Baldwin Park City Hall.

A major difficulty facing officials has been how to pay for the cleanup, estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and to take decades to complete.

With the release in April of a $106-million five-year plan, federal and state officials detailed how the cleanup should proceed.

Emphasis was placed on 12 of the valley's most highly polluted wells, in the Azusa-Baldwin Park area.

The plan suggested the construction of a regional treatment plant to serve the area at an estimated $50 million or more.

Torres said: "I will be asking (federal officials at the hearing) a very simple question: When will construction start? . . . The period for study is over. Now we are looking for specific results."

Local officials--represented by the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster--released their own cleanup plan last summer.

The Watermaster, a nine-member board that oversees water rights in the valley, focused on treatment of individual wells.

This approach, taken during the next three to seven years, would cost less, said Timothy C. Jochem, Watermaster project manager: $15 million to $25 million for 11 wells in the Azusa-Baldwin Park area and $3.5 million to operate the wells each year.

He said water officials were looking for a less expensive plan and trying to be realistic about obtaining financing for a short-term project.

Environmentalists have sided with the state and federal plan, saying they distrust local water officials. At the same time, the local authorities said any differences have been exaggerated.

To give the public a chance to respond, the Watermaster is holding a hearing at 10 a.m. Wednesday at its El Monte offices, 11310 Valley Blvd. Jochem said he hoped the hearing, and Torres', will point out similarities in the plans.

"We've had these philosophical interagency differences so much that we didn't notice that our strategies are beginning to merge," Jochem said.

Both hearings will probably deal with how water being pumped from the San Gabriel Basin influences the movement of underground contamination. Due to increased pollution from cancer-causing chemicals during the last 10 years, one-fourth of the basin's wells have been closed.

Federal and state officials have said that pumping by individual water suppliers has spread the pollution, whereas local officials downplay such a possibility.

Earlier this month, the cleanup was discussed at two other hearings. One was held by state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the Committee on Toxics and Public Safety Management. The other was held by Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park), who chairs the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee.

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