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Plans for $1.1M treatment facility suspended

State-ordered tests show MTBE contaminant levels too low to qualify for a cleanup grant.

February 16, 2011|By Melanie Hicken, melanie.hicken@latimes.com

LA CRESCENTA — Plans for a $1.1-million grant-funded facility to strip a toxic gasoline additive from a Crescenta Valley underground water well will be suspended after tests showed minimal levels of the contaminant.

The Crescenta Valley Water District Board of Directors had been pressing ahead with the treatment facility for Methyl tert-butyl ether, known as MTBE, at a well located at the corner of Pennsylvania and Mills avenues, but state officials said that without proving high levels of the toxin, the district wouldn’t get the grant.

District officials on Tuesday released results of the five-day test that showed levels of MTBE that were far below state and federal standards.

Now, officials say they will move to get the well — which has been out of service since 2008 — turned on as soon as possible and reevaluate plans for the treatment facility.

Last year alone, the district saw increased costs of roughly $600,000 — mostly due to imported water — because of the well being out of service.

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“We are happy to be able to put that well back online because it is such a good producer,” water board President Kathy Ross said. “That means less water that needs to be purchased from Foothill.”

It is unclear whether the state grant could be used in the future if higher than allowed MTBE levels appear at one of the district’s wells, officials said.

The test results are a victory for neighbors of the planned project who said they weren’t notified of the facility and have argued it wasn’t even needed.

“We are very happy,” said resident Simon Mirzayan, who lives next door to the well. “It is good news. But the shocking news is that we lost a ton of money by not doing this earlier.”

Less extensive testing of the well over the past eight months had also shown low levels of the contaminant, but district officials had said they suspected MTBE levels would spike once the well was turned on.

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

Water district officials are suing tank owners in an attempt to recover millions already spent on the cleanup.

MTBE contamination travels in “plumes,” which make its movement difficult to predict and track, officials said.

District official said dealing with the contaminant in recent years has been a learning experience.

“It’s new to us, but we have learned a lot over the years,” Ross said. “We know it’s very possible that it is still somewhere in our soil and it could continue to move downstream. We are going to continue monitoring all our wells.”

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