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End to Water-Dumping Sought

November 17, 2001|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An official who oversees ground water pumping for the San Fernando Valley has gone to court to stop the city of Glendale from dumping any more well water into the Los Angeles River.

Mel Blevins, the Upper Los Angeles River Area Watermaster, said in papers filed Nov. 9 in Los Angeles County Superior Court that Glendale has illegally released tens of thousands of gallons of well water worth about $2.7 million into the river since September 2000. A hearing is set for Jan. 17.

Blevins took the matter to court after warning Glendale for more than a year to stop the practice, he said on Friday.

"To exercise their water right, they cannot waste water, which they've been doing for the past 15 months," he said. "The bottom line is it violates the state Constitution, and the watermaster has the authority to stop them from dumping water."

For more than a year, Glendale officials ordered water from seven wells dumped into the river out of fear that relatively high concentrations of the chemical chromium 6 would end up in residents' tap water. Officials have said they will revisit the policy.

"I'm not sure what kind of flexibility the watermaster will show on this issue," said Don Froelich, Glendale's water services administrator. "He's been allowing these discharges for a long period of time."

Blevins said he has repeatedly objected to the dumping.

Glendale stopped pumping water from the wells in the early 1980s, when toxic solvents were found in the city's aquifers. It decided then to import all its drinking water. But last year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city to begin pumping the wells again and treat the water at a $5-million plant built to contain an underground plume of toxic solvents.

Well water from the Glendale treatment plant has measured chromium 6 as high as 15 parts per billion, according to city officials. The city's imported water supplies contain less than 1 ppb of chromium 6.

Chromium 6 is a chemical used in paint, chrome plating and other manufacturing processes. It has been detected in water systems throughout the state, including industrial areas of Los Angeles. It is considered carcinogenic when inhaled, but its danger to people when ingested is unclear.

State and federal governments limit chromium in water, which indirectly regulates chromium 6. Federal guidelines hold total chromium to 100 ppb, while the state limit is 50 ppb.

In 1999, a state agency recommended that the amount of chromium allowed in drinking water be lowered to 2.5 ppb as a way of limiting chromium 6.

Last week, the same agency withdrew that recommendation, acknowledging that its initial risk assessment was flawed.

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