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Boos meet MTBE facility

Residents question the necessity and appearance of the tainted well's cleanup plans.

December 29, 2010

NORTH GLENDALE — A group of residents took Crescenta Valley Water District officials to task Tuesday for not alerting them earlier about a large water treatment facility originally slated to begin construction in their neighborhood next month.

Plans to build a treatment facility for Methyl tert-butyl ether, known as MTBE, at the utility's Well No. 5, located at the corner of Pennsylvania and Mills avenues, have been in the works for more than a year.

But residents only learned of the project — which will include the installation of two 16-foot-tall treatment vessels and above-ground piping — in recent weeks.

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"I think it is the look of the canisters that is the issue," said resident Deb Jordan, who lives across the street from the planned facility. "That is not what I want to see outside my front window."

The concerns came during a community meeting near the utility's well at the corner of Pennsylvania and Mills avenues Tuesday evening when utility officials briefed residents on the $1.1-million grant-funded facility to remove MTBE.

First detected at elevated levels in a Crescenta Valley well in 2006, the contaminant is believed to have entered the water supply from leaking underground gasoline storage tanks.

While contaminant levels are kept far below state and federal standards through the blending of imported water, the contamination has forced the temporary closure of groundwater wells and cost the district millions of dollars. Water district officials are suing past tank owners in an attempt to recover money spent on the cleanup.

At the meeting, residents questioned the need for the treatment facility, citing the district's own data that shows very low levels of MTBE detected at the well in the past eight months.

"We're cleaning clean water for $1 million," Jordan said.

Utility officials said they suspect MTBE levels will spike once the well is turned on again, but acknowledged there is no way to know for sure.

"If we spend the money, and there is not MTBE, then that's the way it goes," said district engineer David Gould. "But right now we have proof it is there."

Determining an effective treatment method is important, officials said, to prevent the shutdown of wells during future periods of contamination.

Imported water costs the district roughly four times that of groundwater, officials said. The district saw increased costs of roughly $600,000 last year because of the Mills Well No. 5 being out of service, they said.

"Because of the continued loss of economic value in this water, it was important to get this moving," said General Manager Dennis Erdman.

Still, officials on Tuesday said the project would likely be postponed to address residential concerns. And they acknowledged that they could have done a better job of informing residents.

"I think that we could have done a better job in the public outreach," said James Bodnar, who sits on the district's Board of Directors. "I'm listening and we will take action in response to the comments we've received today."

But some residents questioned why they had not been involved in the process from the project's inception.

"I wish we had this discussion, meeting earlier," said Simon Mirzayan, who lives next door to the well. "It seems like everything is done."

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