HINKLEY • Years of groundwater cleanup still lie ahead in the tiny desert community of Hinkley, made famous by a contaminated water supply that was the subject of the Hollywood film “Erin Brockovich.”
But a final environmental impact report released last Friday will soon allow expanded cleanup efforts, according to Lauri Kemper, the Lahontan Water Board’s Assistant Executive Officer.
“This is a key step, although it’s sort of a first step, in terms of understanding what the impacts are going to be of the long-term cleanup out of Hinkley,” Kemper said.
The document addresses a recent expansion of the defined plume area — where water is contaminated by hexavalent chromium — and requires a growing cleanup effort by Pacific Gas and Electric, including more monitoring wells, land for agricultural projects and other measures to remove the chemical.
PG&E has been under order by the Lahontan Water Board to clean up the chromium-laced groundwater in the unincorporated community 14 miles northwest of Barstow for about 25 years, after it first admitted to the board that it was responsible for contaminating the town’s water supply 20 years prior, according to the report. In the 1950s and 60s, a compound containing the cancer-causing chemical seeped from one of the company’s compressor station cooling towers into unlined ponds.
Late last year it was discovered that the contaminated area, known as the plume, had grown by several miles, from a 2-by-1.3-mile area to about a 7-by-2.5 miles, according to the report.
In a study conducted by PG&E at the beginning stages of the cleanup, it was determined that the naturally occurring level of hexavalent chromium in the groundwater in Hinkley was 3.1 parts per billion, according to Kemper. Considering the heart of the plume contains levels of hexavalent chromium reaching 4,100 parts per billion, experts believe the cleanup may take at least 30 years.
The completed EIR, scheduled to be officially certified by the Water Board on July 17, will allow PG&E to apply for certain permits necessary from the Department of Fish and Wildlife to expand its remediation activities, according to Kemper.
Stepping up cleanup efforts may come at a cost. According to the report, the efforts could lead to a significant drawdown of groundwater — potentially drying up wells — along with a temporary decrease in water quality and restrictions of desert tortoise migration.
In regards to the water drawdown, Kemper said PG&E would have to provide homeowners with new wells or water supplies if their wells dry up. The temporary water quality impacts would include a possible expansion of the chromium plume as PG&E pumps fresh water into the ground, she said.
Visit www.waterboards.ca.gov/lahontan for more information or to see the final EIR in its entirety.
Contact the writer: BSelf@DesertDispatch.com or 760-256-4123.