Bottled water tapped out

San Martin
– Residents whose water tests below the state’s public health
goal for perchlorate may soon lose their bottled water privileges
if a draft order handed down this week by the State Water Resources
Control Board is upheld.
San Martin – Residents whose water tests below the state’s public health goal for perchlorate may soon lose their bottled water privileges if a draft order handed down this week by the State Water Resources Control Board is upheld.

According to the order, the Central Coast Regional Water Resources Control Board “abused its discretion” when it ordered Olin Corp. to provide water for all residents drawing from wells that tested for perchlorate at 4 part per billion or higher. The state order directed the regional board to defer to the public health goal of 6 parts per billion set by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, part of the state Environmental Protection Agency.

“Any other approach,” the order says, “would require regional water boards to make individual, possibly inconsistent public health and toxicological determinations.”

The order affects as many as 659 of the 929 San Martin wells for which Olin provides alternative water. Olin project manager Rick McClure could not be reached for comment Friday, and there were no available records of how many residents draw water from those wells. In its appeal of the original regional board order, Olin said the decision will lower its annual cost of supplying water from $745,000 to $321,000. Olin will continue to provide water for residents whose water tests between 4 and 6 parts per billion until the order is finalized. A public hearing on the order will be held in Sacramento in April.

Sylvia Hamilton, chairwoman of the Perchlorate Community Advisory Group, said Friday that the state order is inconsistent because it reaffirms Olin’s duty to clean the groundwater basin to background levels while lessening the company’s responsibility for providing alternative water.

“I’m not happy at this point,” Hamilton said, “but I haven’t had much time to investigate the report. I need to give it a more careful analysis.”

Perchlorate was first discovered at the Railroad Avenue site of Olin’s former road-flare factory in 2000. The company began providing bottled water to San Martin residents in 2002. At that time, the so-called notification level for perchlorate set by the California Department of Health Services was 4 parts per billion. The notification level is the point at which well owners must notify the agency of the contamination.

In March 2004, OEHHA set the public health goal at 6 parts per billion. The DHS is in the process of setting a drinking water standard that can not be below the health goal. In July 2004, the regional board ordered Olin to continue providing water to well users at a level of 4 parts per billion or higher. In some instances, users of wells that tested as low as 2 parts per billion are also eligible for bottled water.

David Athey, project manager for the regional board, said Friday the board set a tougher standard because studies of perchlorate’s health effects have been inconclusive. He said he did not know how the regional board would reply to the draft order, which he said found that the code that authorizes the regional board to order cleanup to background levels does not apply to water supply.

“It’s my personal opinion, this is not a position of the board, that the state needs to develop guidelines for an alternative drinking water supply,” he said.

The regional board will likely issue next week an official version of the final cleanup order it issued to Olin last month. A number of parties offered comments on the order, but none that are likely to effect significant changes. McClure said earlier this week that Olin’s suggestions were technical in nature.

The cleanup order requires Olin to divulge by next January exactly how it will clean the perchlorate in the nine-mile plume that stretches south and east from the factory site, and to what levels.

Earlier this week, Olin submitted a plan to install a total of four monitoring wells in the northeast flow, a disputed plume that Santa Clara Valley Water District will test later this year to determine if it also was polluted by the Olin factory.

Something to say?

There are two avenues to comment on the board’s decision to limit the bottled water delivered to residents:

• A public hearing will be held at 10am on April 6, at 1001 I St., Sacramento. Speakers will be limited to three minutes.

• The state board accepts written comments. For more information contact Debbie Irvin, board clerk, at (916) 341-5600 or e-mail [email protected]

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