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Watermaster Helps Fund Basin Cleanup


Officials of the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster have announced a $1.2 million program to help finance ground-water cleanup efforts.

Environmentalists said the money may help with the cleanup effort, which ultimately could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But they questioned whether the board took the action last week to counter charges it has done little so far to remedy the area's severe ground-water pollution problem, first discovered in 1979.

The watermaster, a nine-member board that oversees pumping of drinking water from the region's underground water supply, will generate the money this year by assessing water companies $5 for every acre-foot drawn from the San Gabriel Basin. An acre-foot, which amounts to 325,000 gallons, supplies the yearly needs for two average families.

Whether the assessment would have any direct effect on consumers' water bills would depend on the dozens of individual water suppliers in the region, officials said.

"It may or may not change the rates. But it's fairly minimal, regardless," said watermaster board member Edward R. Heck, who manages Azusa Valley Water Co.

Environmentalists, who have criticized the watermaster and local, state and federal officials for not doing more to solve the pollution problem, reacted cautiously to the announcement.

"We appreciate their help," said Maxine Leichter, head of the Sierra Club Angeles chapter's water quality group. "But I have mixed feelings."

Leichter said she is concerned that the motive behind the action stems from the board's desire "to preserve their power" in the face of increasing environmental activism surrounding San Gabriel Valley water issues.

However, watermaster chairman Linn E. Magoffin said Wednesday that the assessment plan represents a commitment to clean up the pollution. While others debate what ought to be done, he said, "We're going to go ahead and do something to clean it up."

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