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State water officials probe source of Barstow contamination

Investigators are testing wells to determine how high levels of perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel, got into the region's water supply. The crisis response has cost about $100,000 so far.

November 24, 2010|By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times

State water officials launched an investigation Tuesday into how a chemical used in rocket fuel and munitions found its way into Barstow's residential water supply, as costs to address the crisis mounted.

Lauri Kemper, assistant executive director of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, said, "We've got three teams of investigators sampling private wells in the area as part of an effort to get a sense of the extent of the contamination in the groundwater, and where it originated."

"This is the first round of sampling and we hope to have results next week," Kemper said. "If the problem occurs again, the city has supply wells to rely on."

Test results from samples taken in August at the nearby Marine Corps Logistics Base showed high levels of perchlorate. Marine Corps officials received the results Nov. 9, and sent them back for verification, which came Thursday. The following day, authorities imposed an area-wide water ban, and the governor on Saturday declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County.

On Sunday the drinking-water ban was lifted for western half of the city. Late Tuesday, Golden State Water Co., the public water system that serves the high desert community of about 30,500, lifted the ban for the rest of the Barstow area, with the exception of the Veterans Home of California.

At the neighboring Marine Corps base, which houses more than 22,000 people, "We are continuing to flush the water system, and test and retest water samples," spokesman Robert Jackson said. "We want to make sure it is clear and pure enough for consumption. Until then, we're passing out bottled water."

Mark Murphy, a senior management analyst for Barstow, said, "So far, the city has incurred costs of about $100,000 in overtime and running our emergency operations center. We hope to get reimbursements from the state for 75% of the total costs."

"The first priority is protecting public health," Murphy said. "Now, we're searching for the potential sources of the pollution. But this process will take some time. It may be weeks or even months before we know where that chemical is, and how it got there."

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