By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
Both Motorola and the state say they hope this will keep the highest concentrations of contamination from spreading.
Recently, the company agreed to sink test wells on the west side of the canal to measure the spread of the contamination. The existence of the wells, however, does not guarantee that Motorola will commit to long-term cleanup of the majority of the plume.
What officials fear is that the largest part of the Motorola plume that is not being addressed might be flowing into other plumes of TCE contamination downstream in the so-called East Washington groundwater-pollution study area. If the Motorola plume has blended with other plumes, it will be "tricky" and "challenging" to find out who is responsible for how much of the mess, says Jacqueline Maye, who oversees the Motorola 52nd Street "remediation" for the state. The aquifer also has another potential problem: TCE can change over time into a far more dangerous chemical, the virulent carcinogen vinyl chloride.
No one knows how much of the aquifer's TCE has degraded into the dangerous chemical, but several test wells located between 48th Street and the Motorola 52nd Street plant have produced water tainted with vinyl chloride, says Keith Ross, a DEQ hydrologist.
@body:Like quarreling siblings, the two state agencies entrusted with protecting our groundwater have long battled over bureaucratic turf. They argue especially over what to do about the extensive groundwater damage caused by Motorola and other high-tech industries.
The Department of Water Resources, whose main mission it is to preserve the groundwater, favors forcing polluters to pump and treat as much as possible today.
If the aquifer is dirty, then water that has been pumped and treated could be reinjected into a clean area, says Bruce Davis, chief of water management for the agency. "We have polluters here today," says Davis. "We know what the costs are now. In today's dollars. If we don't make them clean up now, the plume may grow. Then we are left with treating water at the wellhead down the road, probably at much greater cost and at taxpayer expense."
But Bruce Davis can do no more than talk about the contaminated aquifer. DWR has little authority to enforce cleanup. Instead, that responsibility goes to DEQ, largely because the legislature did not want to make DWR too powerful, says Wes Steiner, the agency's first director.
"It is an arbitrary division with ragged edges," says current DWR director Elizabeth Rieke. "We have a major stake in keeping this resource clean but we can't enforce all cleanup laws. And our obligation is to ensure a water supply for future generations. It is wonderful to have so much groundwater, but if it's polluted, its value is diminished."
Soon the department may have even less influence in the fate of the state's groundwater pollution. The entire DWR water-quality staff has been targeted for layoffs by the governor's Project SLIM cost-cutting brigade. Rieke, who is battling to save at least some of the positions, says she "never sensed" that SLIM's recommendations were political in nature.
Ed Fox, Rieke's counterpart at DEQ, once represented industries in environmental matters. At a recent gathering of Superfund officials (see related story), Fox exhorted them not to treat polluting industries as "criminals." "I've been on both sides of the fence," he told the Superfund managers. "We haven't lost our obligation to be benevolent."
Fox is respected by environmentalists and industry alike, and says he is "committed" to finding ways to prevent taxpayers from paying the bills of polluters.
Although he won't give a time frame, Fox says he will bring Motorola and other polluters "to the table" to look at options for groundwater cleanup. Although Fox says he is considering several proposals, he has not ruled out the idea of forcing Motorola to pay money into a trust fund so that taxpayers wouldn't have to pay for cleanup in the future.
This doesn't sit well with Motorola.
"We don't really consider the establishment of a trust fund necessary," says Moore. "We cannot foresee a time when Motorola would not be here to behave as a responsible corporate citizen. Therefore, a trust fund is unnecessary. We have a continuing commitment to cooperate with government authorities."
@body:While water officials bicker over who pays to clean up the contamination and when, the pivotal question remains whether the polluted aquifer will be tapped in times of severe drought. And whether it will be tapped soon.
Phoenix drought officials have essentially written off the TCE pollution in their drought plan, saying they do not need to draw from this dirty aquifer.
"As you look at the facts, I think you'll agree that while there are many aspects concerning the potential effects of TCE, its effect related to supplies of water during a drought is comparatively small," wrote Bing Brown in a note accompanying the city's drought plan.
Brown, the spokesman for the Phoenix Water and Wastewater Department, is an Arizona native. He is well-acquainted with droughts. He remembers hauling drums of water in his father's Jeep to quench the thirst of cattle on the family's Prescott ranch during the drought in 1950.