H2O Quality And Safety Issues Hit Five County Communities

Water quality and/or safety issues have intensified in five San Bernardino County communities.
The most serious issue – radioactive contamination – previously manifested in three of the county’s more remote and relatively sparsely populated districts. Accompanying the radiation in one of those areas are fluoride and arsenic contamination problems. The less serious issue – an algae bloom that has impacted the taste of tap water – is a recent develop in the county’s extreme southwest corner, even though the water originates elsewhere.
Out in the desert uranium and radioactive gross alpha particles have shown up in the water being delivered by San Bernardino County’s Special Districts Department to households in Pioneertown and Morongo Valley’s Little Morongo and Hacienda Heights neighborhoods.
In Little Morongo the level of uranium measured in a liter of water registered at 38 picoCuries. Likewise the gross alpha radiation detected in water drawn in the same area stood at 38. In Hacienda Heights, the uranium level is 25 picoCuries per liter and 26 picoCuries of gross alpha particles.
The Environmental Protection Agency deems a uranium level of 20 picoCuries per liter to be unfit for human consumption.
In Pioneertown, the uranium level was below that in Little Morongo and Hacienda Heights, but still in excess of that deemed acceptable by the EPA, at 22.2 picoCuries per liter. While, relatively speaking, the Pioneertown water is less radioactive than that in Little Morongo or Hacienda Heights, it is contaminated as well with excessive levels of fluoride and arsenic.
The county Special Districts Department acknowledges that in addition to the elevated uranium in Pioneertown’s water, its arsenic levels have measured as high as 0.065 micrograms per liter, more than six times above the EPA’s maximum contaminant level of .01 microgram per liter. Moreover, Pioneertown’s water measures 8.4 micrograms of fluoride per liter, more than double the EPA maximum level of 4 micrograms per liter.
According to a report to the county board of supervisors dated June 28, 2016 from Jeff Rigney, the director of the county Special Districts Department, “The special districts department, through its water and sanitation division, oversees the management, operations, and maintenance of the following water systems: County Service Area 70, Zone W-3 (CSA 70 W-3), which has 150 active service connections within the Hacienda Heights community; County Service Area 70, Zone W-4 (CSA 70 W-4), which has 102 active service connections in the Pioneertown community; and County Service Area 70, Zone F (CSA 70F), which has 74 active service connections in the Little Morongo community. CSA 70 W-3 and CSA 70F water wells exceed maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for gross alpha and uranium. CSA 70 W-4 water wells exceed the maximum contaminant levels for arsenic, fluoride, and uranium. The wells in each system have some form of detectable constituent above the maximum contaminant levels allowed for a public water system.”
To address water quality issues in these districts, county special districts staff prepared and submitted a construction grant application for Zone W-4 seeking up to $5,045,000 under the State’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to pay for the construction of a pipeline to interconnect with the Hi-Desert Water District. Under that plan, a pipeline paralleling Pioneertown Road with pumping stations would deliver Hi-Desert Water District water from Yucca Valley to Pioneertown. The county is seeking to purchase property from the Wildlands Conservancy to accommodate one or more of those pumping stations. State staff has asked for a refinement of the design plans for the project before providing funding. It does not appear that the state will provide funding to cover the full cost of the project if it will provide the grant at all, leaving the county and Pioneertown residents under the gun to come up with some $2 million more than would be available through the State Revolving Fund for the project. There are roughly 140 households/water customers in Pioneertown.
The presumably untainted water from the Hi-Desert Water District would be used to blend with the water from the contaminated wells, diluting the radiation, arsenic and fluoride to a level that would make the water safe for human consumption. The special districts department is also seeking grant funding for Zones W-3 and 70F for water treatment facilities as permanent water treatment solutions.
Rigney recommended that the county provide an interim solution to address water quality issues in CSA 70 Zones W-3, W-4, and F before the connection with the Hi-Desert Water District is achieved and before enforcement action is initiated by state, federal or county regulatory agencies. At Rigney’s request, the board of supervisors authorized in June the submission of grant applications to the State Water Resources Control Board under the Interim Emergency Drinking Water Fund, requesting $757,834 in grants from a $1 billion drought relief package signed by Governor Jerry Brown last year, intended to cover the cost of providing bottled water to customers on an interim basis not to exceed three years until a permanent solution to address water quality issues is implemented.
Without bottled water or water imported from another source, the residents in the Little Morongo, Hacienda Heights and Pioneertown communities will continue to consume contaminated water.
San Bernardino County applied for the grant, saying in the application it wanted to use the money to deliver 5 gallons of Arrowhead bottled water to county water customers every two weeks for the next three years. But two weeks ago, the county received word that the state had denied the grant application, reportedly because the funds are depleted.
In the meantime, the district is looking into tapping into some existing wells in the areas around Pioneertown, Hacienda Heights and Little Morongo that provide water untainted with arsenic, fluoride and uranium. Those wells are located on private property and are privately owned, requiring arrangements with those well owners.
Some 75 to 80 miles west by west southwest as the crow flies, residents in Chino Valley have experienced an unpleasant taste and smell to their tap water. Water officials are hoping the issue is a temporary one that will resolve itself. The culprit is believed to be an algae bloom at Silverwood Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, a reservoir where roughly 20 percent of the water provided to Chino and some 15 to 20 percent of the water provided to Chino Hills by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California originates.
The algae bloom takes place at Silverwood Lake every year about this time, as temperature and pH conditions combine to maximize the algae expansion. This year the bloom is slightly more pronounced than in recent years. The condition will likely have passed by mid-August.
The taste and odor change, while less than palatable, represents no health risk, officials maintain. The Metropolitan Water District is moving to alleviate the condition by the introduction of low levels of copper sulfate into the lake.
The Pioneertown, Hacienda Heights, Little Morongo and Chino Valley water quality issues are only the most recent of problems relating to the elixir of life in San Bernardino County.
In Hinkley, the water supply has long been threatened with the presence of hexavalent chromium, an anti-corrosive put into the cooling systems for the pressurizing system of a West Texas-to-San Francisco natural gas line, the water from which was disposed of in unlined trenches in the Mojave Desert northwest of Barstow.
In the Victor Valley, contaminants from now-shuttered George Air Force Base – including the solvent trichlorethylene, pesticides, asbestos and radioactive materials – are migrating into the water table next to the Mojave River.
In northern Rialto, perchlorate – a substance known to wreak havoc on the thyroid gland and lungs – has formed a plume in the water table directly beneath a host of industrial operations that used the substance in the 1940s, 1950s, 1060s and 1970s, and is migrating toward adjoining water basins.

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