HINKLEY — Last January when John Izbicki with the United States Geological Survey began looking for domestic water wells to test for his $5.4 million study on Chromium-6, John Turner was glad to offer his property on Mulberry Road.
Izbicki’s five-year quest is to find out how much of the chromium 6 in Hinkley’s groundwater can be attributed to Pacific Gas & Electric’s contamination years ago and how much was put there by nature. His testing, however, includes other metals in the water.
The study is made up of eight tasks, according to the USGS. The first is to identify the area near the mapped hexavalent chromium plume having water quality of concern to the study. The USGS also wants to determine if there are natural geological sources of chromium in the area and if these sources are contributing to groundwater chromium-6 levels. The study is scheduled for completion in 2019.
While it’s too soon to answer all those questions, one finding remains constant. Mother Nature is definitely to blame for some of the issues facing Hinkley water users.
“Forty percent of the wells exceed the state and nation’s safe drinking water level for arsenic,” Izbicki said Monday. “Twenty-seven of the 72 wells exceed the limit for arsenic.”
Izbicki sent out letters the past two weeks to the property owners who allowed him to test their wells in January. The letters provide data on their wells and Turner’s Mulberry’s property showed a high level of arsenic.
“Just got mine (letter) last night,” Turner said. “It was in the low 20s (maximum containment level).”
In 2001 the US Environmental Protection Agency lowered the maximum level of arsenic permitted in drinking water from 50 micrograms per liter (ug/L) to 10 ug/L.
Turner said he has his well tested regularly. Most of the time, Tuner said his results are slightly less than 10. But it has jumped as high as 42. He’s not sure what causes the fluctuation, but he’s hoping Izbicki’s study will eventually provide some answers.
Some Hinkley residents have raised concerns that PG&E’s remediation operations could be the cause of the rise in arsenic levels. During a November 2014 Lahontan Regional Water Control Board meeting held in Lenwood, resident Lester White demanded PG&E provide data proving arsenic was escaping from the Chromium 6 plume.
“I have a lot of concerns and the community has a lot of concerns about arsenic getting into their wells,” Lester said.
“I would think arsenic would be something the state water board would want to protect the people from. But it seems like money overpowers, or egos. There is something here that has stopped this arsenic from being checked on,” Hinkley resident Larry Griep said.
So far, Izibicki believes the arsenic in the wells he tests outside the plume is naturally occurring.
“It’s part of the geology,” Dr. Izibicki said.
Lance Eckhart, who is the director of Basin Management and Resource Planning for the Mojave Water Agency, agrees.
“Arsenic is very common throughout the arid Southwest and widespread in the High Desert,” he said. “There are a lot of metals in the groundwater that are naturally occurring. It’s very common in our service area.”
Eckhart said even Victorville has high levels of arsenic, which the water system has to thin out. That is why Eckhart recommends regular testing of domestic wells.
Large doses of arsenic consumed over a long length of time can cause harm to the human body, according to the water Resources Control Board. Ingestion of arsenic can pose a risk for cancer. Arsenic also can result in a number of non-cancer effects at higher levels of exposure involving the vascular system and the skin.
Turner is well aware of those dangers that is why he installed Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration systems at the Mulberry house.
Eckhart said said in most cases, an inexpensive water system can be purchased at a local hardware store. But a more expensive system may be needed for higher concentrations of arsenic.
“That’s a pretty easy, straight forward solution to take care of most of your issues,” he said.
Izbicki also reported that six of the 72 wells tested high levels of uranium. There were some high levels of nitrates. He said all of those are also naturally occurring metals.
Eckhart said uranium can be as high as risk as arsenic and is widespread in the High Desert. He mentioned Pioneer Town as an area with high concentration of uranium.
Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-957-0613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @mlambdispatch.