By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Now DWR's efforts to have even a small voice in cleanup are being destroyed by Project SLIM, Governor Fife Symington's cost-cutting panel, which has demanded that DWR fire its water-quality staff.
Governor Symington's Project SLIM panel has also demanded that DEQ slash its staff by nearly one-third. What this means is that Arizona's groundwater pollution will be monitored by a state agency, DEQ, that is losing its staffing ability to police contamination at the same time that the agency's director is moving toward federal policies that are in tune to the plight of industries that have mishandled hazardous waste.
The prospects are alarming.
One of Arizona's most troublesome pollutants is TCE, and the worst TCE spill in Arizona originates beneath the Motorola semiconductor factory at 52nd Street and McDowell in Phoenix.
Unlike the Scottsdale plant, the Phoenix plant does not manufacture defense products and cannot bill the United States government for its Superfund expenses, says Motorola spokesman Moore.
But the cost to citizens remains to be seen.
The Phoenix plume is so vast it has yet to be charted. It stretches westward from the plant someplace past 24th Street into one of the Valley's most productive aquifers. The contamination is spreading, and thus far cleanup plans agreed to by Motorola do not address the migration of the largest expanse of the plume.
Environmental officials fear the migrating Motorola plume, if not checked, might mix with other plumes from other companies, possibly forming a "Superplume" that is far more toxic than any single plume. Chemicals such as TCE could contaminate the "entire area from the Papago Buttes to Luke Air Force Base," says Tom Curry, a DEQ water official. "We think it's a significant problem," he says with more than a little frustration. "This is a drinking-water aquifer. Let's get it cleaned up."
Herb Dishlipp of DWR says he fears that unless the traveling plumes are stopped, they will infect clean parts of the aquifer that should be counted on as a reserve in times of drought. If the aquifer is extensively contaminated, water pumped out must be cleaned before it is served to citizens, he says.
This may force citizens' water bills to skyrocket, says Dishlipp.
As an example of what could happen in Arizona, state officials point to the current disaster in Southern California.
@body:In Southern California, struggling through its sixth year of severe drought, there is no question who pays the ultimate cost of groundwater pollution. The citizens pay.
"The water ratepayer ends up paying. That may or may not be fair," says Don Adams, director of resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The agency sells water to the thirsty cities in the southern section of the state, including San Diego and Los Angeles.
Don Adams is, quite possibly, one of the most harried water officials in the United States. There is not enough water in California to supply both the farms and the cities. So California farmers are allowed federally subsidized water that is imported from distant rivers.
There are no similar subsidies for drinking water for city dwellers, however, and Adams' challenge is to somehow find the water and deliver it to the cities, regardless of the cost.
Like Arizona, California relies on surface water that has its genesis in the northern highlands. When the reservoirs of northern California began drying up because the mountains had little rainfall, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was forced to pump polluted groundwater in order to supply one-third of Southern California's water needs.
A full quarter of this groundwater comes from an aquifer that stretches beneath the San Gabriel Valley. The aquifer is tainted with TCE and other solvents, Adams says. Adams is not hopeful that the aquifer will ever be cleaned up in "geologic time."
"I'm not sure you can ever get the solvents out," he says. "You just continue to treat at the wellhead," says Adams.
Of 300 wells drilled into the San Gabriel aquifer, about 70 have been shut down due to contamination by solvents such as TCE. But in times of thirst, polluted water is better than no water at all. Thus far, five wells were retrofitted with "pump-and-treat" equipment to pump out groundwater, strip it of solvents, and serve it to customers. This triples the wholesale cost of water.
And there may be additional costs soon. In part because the drought has not abated in the northern section of the state, Adams says, the district is considering installing a $400 million water-treatment plant to cleanse groundwater of solvents and other chemicals, as well as some minerals.
Who will pay?
The ratepayers, he says.
It may not be fair, but that's the way it is.
"You might say those who dirtied the nest have to pay," Adams tells New Times. "That's good in concept but tough to execute. No polluter in the San Gabriel basin has paid.
"In Arizona you will conclude that after long, long struggles with the EPA and polluters, not much happens except for studies--and consultants and lawyers make a lot of money."
@body:Unlike Los Angeles, Phoenix is not in the clutches of a drought.