By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
And should the Valley suffer the ravages of a hundred-year drought in the near future, it has more groundwater reserves than Southern California, thanks to the 1980 groundwater code.
The Valley's groundwater treasure hides in a huge basin that is enclosed by hard-rock mountains. To the east, there are the Superstitions. To the north, the New River mountains. To the west, the Vultures and the Big Horns. To the south, the Gila Bend Mountains, the Sierra Estrella, South Mountain and the San Tans. On the southern end of the basin is the Salt River.
Bisecting the basin, traveling from the northwest to the southeast, is the CAP aqueduct, a concrete ditch that shoots a ribbon of Colorado River water uphill from Lake Havasu through Phoenix and on to Tucson. Within the vast basin are smaller aquifers. They are cut off from each other by the underground rock of smaller mountains, the Papago Buttes, for instance.
One of the largest and most productive aquifers in the entire basin stretches from the Papago Buttes to the White Tank Mountains, and from the north Phoenix mountains down to the Salt River.
In other words, this aquifer extends beneath the city of Phoenix. Which is why its southern half, which sits below the industrial districts of Phoenix, is tainted with TCE and other solvents.
Consider the scope of the pollution: State-designated study areas for TCE contamination in the aquifer stretch from the Motorola site on 52nd Street west to 83rd Avenue, from the Salt River up to Camelback Road.
TCE in this aquifer alone has thus far forced the closure of five City of Phoenix public drinking-water wells--with the total pumping capacity of four million gallons a day.
The cost to citizens, either now or in the future, is undeniable.
It would cost a total of $5 million to replace the wells, Phoenix water officials say.
It would cost from $750,000 to $1 million to add equipment on the old wells so that TCE could be cleaned from the drinking water.
Several drinking-water wells in the west-side farming town of Tolleson are now threatened by this TCE pollution in the aquifer, state regulators say.
In the area of Motorola 52nd Street, at least two private citizens have lost wells that they had used for drinking and irrigating their land.
Despite this documented loss, and despite the fact that the Superfund law allows states to sue polluters for damage to groundwater resources, the state has yet to sue any polluter for so-called "loss of resource."
Edward Fox, the DEQ director who is also an environmental lawyer, says the state has yet to sue polluters because the state has yet to determine the extent of the damage to the resource.
Although hundreds of industries are guilty of the pollution in the aquifer underlying most of Phoenix, the worst spill comes from the Phoenix Motorola semiconductor plant, for decades the largest plant of its kind in the world.
Regulators themselves seem amazed at the extent of the pollution. One TCE reading beneath the plant was 900,000 times more than the allowable federal limit for TCE in drinking water.
"In fact, this is one of the highest concentrations of TCE in groundwater anyone has ever found," DEQ spokesman John Godec told a citizens group recently. "We know the plume is immense and the concentrations are extraordinary."
The Motorola semiconductor plant sits on the westernmost edge of the Papago Buttes. This is a high point over the aquifer, which means that contaminated groundwater from beneath the plant tends to flow faster than most groundwater, DEQ and DWR officials say.
The plume of contamination is moving westward underground from the plant for miles to someplace beyond 24th Street.
Despite the fact that the pollution was discovered ten years ago, the state regulators entrusted with this particular cleanup have thus far only forced Motorola to attempt cleanup of a small portion of the plume.
There is no assurance that the entire plume will be cleaned up.
A 1989 agreement, called a "consent decree" between Motorola and the state, "only covers a small portion of the plume." "I know there's a much bigger plume," says Dave Ronald, an assistant attorney general in the environmental section that negotiated the agreement with Motorola on behalf of the state.
"The consent decree doesn't cover the largest portion of the contamination. It doesn't cover anything else that Motorola may have been responsible for," he says.
Although Motorola has yet to commit to cleaning up the entire plume, it has in ten years spent a total of $30 million thus far on both the 52nd Street and Scottsdale sites.
A look at Motorola's 1991 annual report to stockholders puts this ten-year expenditure into perspective: The $30 million represents 2.3 percent of one year's cash flow (1991), which was $1.36 billion.
Company spokesman Lawrence Moore says Motorola is working with the federal and state regulators to "identify" what further cleanup of the Phoenix site is "necessary." For several months, Motorola has been "pumping and treating" groundwater--pumping the water from the ground, stripping it of TCE by shooting it through an air tower, and piping it into the semiconductor factory for industrial purposes.