COVINA, Calif. -- A novel and creative solution is being advanced to address the complex problem of cleaning up contaminated groundwater in California's San Gabriel Valley, one of the nation's largest Superfund sites, according to the San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority.
This approach uses a public/private partnership to clean the groundwater basin in a way that safeguards resources and restores the region's economic vitality.
The San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority, a public agency created by the State of California to expedite the Superfund cleanup, has proposed the Greenfields SGV initiative. Named to reflect the intent to renew and revitalize the San Gabriel Valley, Greenfields SGV would:
"I was very pleased," Goodrich said. "They were very open to new ideas and very interested in creative ways of moving the cleanup forward." Goodrich said Greenfields SGV takes advantage of recent administrative reforms and the 1986 amendments to Superfund.
Large portions of the San Gabriel Basin, which provides drinking water to more than one million people, are contaminated with chemical compounds that are suspected carcinogens. The contamination came from the disposal of cleaning agents and other products by businesses and households decades ago, before strict disposal regulations were in effect. Tracing all the contamination to the sources is impossible, officials have said.
The U.S. EPA has identified dozens of business and property owners who are responsible for cleanup. But they are mostly small businesses with limited financial resources who cannot shoulder the burden of paying for remedies that will cost over $10 million. Under Greenfields SGV, businesses identified by EPA as Potentially Responsible Parties would pay a significant share of the cleanup cost, but other funding sources would be used, too, so the cleanup could be completed without destroying businesses and jobs. Funding would come from a variety of sources, including the Water Quality Authority.
In return for the assistance, business participants would be required to give up their right to sue other parties for financial help. The goal is to avoid litigation that diverts financial resources from cleanup.
The plan includes the purchase of special insurance policies to protect against project cost overruns and unforeseen circumstances, such as the discovery of new contaminants or revisions in water quality standards. The use of these insurance policies would allow businesses to complete their obligations to cleanup and avoid long-term, unknown liability. Upon completion of construction, the dark shroud of Superfund would be lifted from the community.
The Water Quality Authority has begun discussions with regulatory agencies, water producers, businesses, and municipalities on applying Greenfields SGV in four geographic areas of the San Gabriel Basin. These have been designated by EPA as the El Monte, South El Monte, Puente Valley, and Whittier Narrows operable units. They are the largest contamination areas in the basin, apart from the Baldwin Park Operable Unit, where a cleanup plan is already under way, using a public/private partnership approach developed earlier by the Water Quality Authority.
Under Greenfields SGV, all of the stakeholders involved in cleanup of the basin would participate in managing the effort. Most of the work required to pinpoint cleanup solutions has already been completed under the EPA Superfund process, which has been under way in the San Gabriel Basin since 1984.
Under Greenfields SGV, cleanup projects could be operational by July of 1999, one to three years before they could be completed under the traditional Superfund process.
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