RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. --The California Regional Water Quality Control Board has willfully allowed portions of the Sacramento County Groundwater Basin to be injected with chemical pollution that is destroying the underground water supply in Rancho Cordova, according to a landmark lawsuit filed recently by the Southern California Water Co. In a separate case, SCWC sued Aerojet General Corp. for causing the contamination.
The inverse condemnation suit against the state was filed after the State Regional Water Quality Control Board and Aerojet rejected Southern California Water Co.'s urgent calls to action -- even though migrating contamination has knocked 8 of the company's 23 wells out of service.
The lawsuits represent a last resort to protect water customers from the high cost of finding a replacement for water supply lost due to contamination. Southern California Water Co. repeatedly sought a firm commitment from the state and Aerojet to resolve the issue without litigation, but both the state and Aerojet rejected those requests.
"By allowing Aerojet to spread contamination in the Sacramento County Groundwater Basin, the State Regional Water Quality Control Board has failed miserably in its responsibility to protect the water supply," said Floyd Wicks, president and chief executive officer of Southern California Water Co. "They've left us with no choice but to seek legal protection for our customers."
Wicks emphasized that the drinking water provided to customers at the tap meets all safe drinking water standards -- even though the underground water supply continues to be threatened. SCWC has a comprehensive water quality assurance program designed to ensure that all water delivered to customers meets federal and state standards for health and safety. SCWC provides water to about 40,000 people in the Rancho Cordova area through its Arden-Cordova Water Service.
"Our company has lost over one-third of its wells in the last 32 months. We will eventually lose them all, unless the state and Aerojet commit to a cleanup plan that truly works to contain the contamination," Wicks said.
"About 75 percent of the water we deliver to customers in Rancho Cordova comes from wells that draw from the underground basin. We are already looking for a new water supply, which will be very costly," Wicks said. "The purpose of this lawsuit is to protect our customers from the cost of replacing the water supply and facilities."
The source of the chemical contamination is Aerojet General Corp., whose industrial operations over more than a generation have caused sweeping pollution problems near Rancho Cordova. For nearly 14 years, Aerojet has been subject to a "cleanup" order under the supervision of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which is responsible for "obtaining action to prevent and abate water pollution and nuisance in the state."
But the "cleanup" plan supervised by the Regional Water Quality Control Board has actually compounded the problem by pushing contamination from the Aerojet property into the Sacramento County Groundwater Basin.
"The Regional Water Quality Control Board looked the other way as Aerojet failed to comply with discharge and cleanup requirements while at the same time illegally moving contamination off their property and into previously clean underground aquifers," Wicks said.
As part of its state-supervised cleanup program, first approved in 1986, Aerojet is extracting groundwater and processing it, in a procedure known as "air stripping," to remove the chemical contaminants TCE and PCE. Aerojet is then reinjecting the processed water back into the groundwater basin.
The problem is that the reinjected processed water contains other chemicals, principally perchlorate and N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), that exceed state-mandated drinking water action levels. These contaminants were not included in the original Aerojet cleanup plan, but the state and Aerojet knew they were present at the site, said Southern California Water officials.
Scientific evidence shows that the reinjection of contaminated water is damaging the Rancho Cordova water supply. Southern California Water Co. has repeatedly asked the state and Aerojet to halt the reinjection to prevent the spread of perchlorate and NDMA into the basin, but they have refused.
"The reinjection of any known contaminant poses immediate risks to the water supply and threatens the integrity of the complete water system," Wicks said. "We are taking all necessary steps to ensure that the water delivered to customers is safe. But we also need to protect those customers from the high cost of finding an alternate water supply when this aquifer is destroyed."
Southern California Water Co. is the principal subsidiary of American States Water Co., a publicly traded holding company (NYSE:AWR). The company provides water service to one out of 30 Californians located within 75 communities throughout 10 counties in Northern, coastal, and Southern California. The company also distributes electricity in the Big Bear recreational area of Southern California.
Return to the U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water News Homepage