Ventura River cleanup problems

EPA, environmentalists disagree on solution, but progress with closure of chemical plant

By Shane Cohn 01/03/2013



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a proposed plan for reducing pollution in the Ventura River.


But local environmentalists say the plan is no good.


The issue at hand is that many groups, some unknown, are pumping too much water from the Ventura River, resulting in excessive nutrients and low oxygen levels. This, in turn, affects the water quality and the lives of the steelhead trout that still exist in the watershed.


The EPA’s 64-page pollution reduction plan only addresses the issue, and does nothing to tackle the problem, said Ben Pitterle, watershed programs director for the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.


“We don’t support what they’re reporting and it will have no significance on the impairment of pumping and diverting,” said Pitterle. “There is still not a program or plan that manages groundwater supply throughout the basin. . . . There are hundreds of wells actively pumped without any coordinated oversight or management. It’s cumulatively pulling lots of water out of the basin.”


Because the Ventura River is on the Los Angeles region’s list of water bodies with numerous pollutant impairments, a 1999 legal settlement between EPA and local environmental groups states the EPA is committed to approving L.A. Water Board-developed pollution reduction plans, known as TMDLs (total maximum daily loads), or independently establishing TMDLs for a list of water bodies in the region.


According to an EPA press release, this particular TMDL “is the last needed to be developed by EPA in accordance with the terms of the settlement.”


“We’ve done our investigative research and now people can come back with input,” said Cindy Lin, Region 9 TMDL coordinator for EPA. “The regional board adopted a Ventura River algae TMDL, and these two reaches [of the river] are within that watershed, and they do address algae as being a problem.”


Pitterle and Paul Jenkin acknowledged the EPA’s previous algae TMDL, and agreed that algae blooms and over-pumping in the river result in dissolved oxygen, causing water impairments. But they both acknowledged that therein lies the failure of the pumping TMDL; it only states the obvious.


“The EPA, by default, kind of duplicated the algae TMDL for the pumping TMDL,” said Jenkin. “It doesn’t address root cause of the problem for the pumping. There are literally hundreds of wells [in the watershed]. Public agencies, to some degree, report how much they pump, but many of those wells don’t report pumping, and there are no means to determine how much and when they are pumping. That would be a good place to start.”


Jenkin said there is nothing regulatory in place to stop somebody, or a corporation like Coca-Cola, from coming in and drilling a new well and pumping away.


The Ventura River pumping TMDL will be open for a 40-day public comment period that will end on Jan. 22, 2013. For more information, as well as how to submit a public comment, visit: www.epa.gov/region09/water/tmdl/progress.html.

 

Multi-Chem

A chemical facility on the banks of the Ventura River is now officially closed.


How it was zoned for approval in the first place causes head-scratching, but the November closure of Multi-Chem chemical storage and mixing facility is good news for the watershed.


Under the terms of a June 2012 Compliance Agreement reached between Multi-Chem and the County of Ventura, the closure was the result of a 2011 legal settlement agreement resolving the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center’s (EDC) allegations that the facility’s storm water management practices were violating requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.


“We don’t go haphazardly in filing lawsuits,” said Brian Segee, an EDC attorney. “We try to target the worst of the worst and this was on top of our list — serious Clean Water Act problems and systematic non-compliance with county laws.”


Segee said Multi-Chem was in violation of every county code that could apply, and the facility had failed to meet Clean Water Act permit monitoring and reporting requirements. The facility was likely discharging pollutants into the Ventura River, said Segee.


“It is encouraging,” said Segee. “It was not our intention to shut it down, but at the end of the day, to have this type of business on the banks of the Ventura River is not a good idea. It’s just outdated zoning by the county, but it needs to be careful with existing industrial facilities along the Ventura River.”


According to EDC, Multi-Chem was acquired last year by Halliburton, the nation’s second-largest oil-services company, in order to expand the breadth of Halliburton’s services, particularly with respect to hydraulic fracturing.

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