US & World

Tainted water in Inland Empire could get easier to track

An arial photo of the Inland Empire in Southern California.
An arial photo of the Inland Empire in Southern California.

Listen to story

Download this story 0.0MB

Has contamination from an Inland Empire “superfund” site leached into the Santa Ana River? A Congressional subcommittee has convened to ponder a bill that would help officials answer that question.

For more than half a dozen years, homeowners in Rialto have paid $12 a month to clean up their drinking water. The Inland city has shut 13 wells because they’re contaminated by perchlorate, a chemical used to make rocket fuel, explosives and fireworks.

Democratic Rep. Joe Baca of San Bernardino says he still has concerns even though the U.S. Geological Survey sampled well water and studied the flow of perchlorate in the immediate area.

"I have concerns that the USGS has not conducted an in-depth analysis of the perchlorate plume in this basin. Because w hen we allow it to flow from not only the Inland Empire, it goes through the Santa Ana River into Orange County, affecting that area as well," he said. Scientists figure that the plume is a mile wide and 6 miles long.

Although the topic was water contamination, budget cutting was again the underlying theme.

House Natural Resources Subcommittee Chairman Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of Lake Tahoe suggested the USGS rethink how it’s spending the money in already has in its current budget. "We’ve got agencies using taxpayer dollars to study dam removal, tearing down perfectly good hydroelectric dams that are generating hundreds of megawatts of electricity," he said.

"Meanwhile, we’ve got communities like Rialto who are begging for USGS action to help provide clean drinking water. And I just wonder is that an appropriate setting of priorities?"

Rialto estimates nearly half its water wells have been contaminated by perchlorate, which has been shown to interfere with thyroid function. Rialto was at one time home to fireworks factories and bomb-making plants going back as far as World War II, all of which may have used the chemical.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency plans to spend $18 million to help with the cleanup.