Topock project open house

Dozens of area residents had the opportunity to learn about this summer’s implementation of the remedy to clean up hexavalent chromium contamination from the groundwater at an open house Wednesday hosted by U.S. Department of the Interior, with support from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and PG&E at the Golden Shores Community Recreation Center.

GOLDEN SHORES — Dave Covington cares about water.

“I’ve been to all the meetings about all the water issues,” Covington said. “I was most interested tonight in learning their contingency and mitigation plans — I did get answers.”

Covington, along with several dozen other area residents, attended an open house Wednesday for a learning opportunity about a decades-in-the-making remediation project to remove a plume of contaminant from groundwater. It was hosted by representatives from the U.S. Department of the Interior, with support from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and PG&E.

“We’re getting ready to implement the groundwater remedy that was selected in 2010 to clean up the hexavalent chromium from the groundwater,” said Pamela Innis, remedial project manager for the Interior Department’s Central Hazardous Materials Fund. “We’re cleaning up the groundwater and we’re finally moving forward on cleaning up the environment around the Topock area.”

Construction is expected to begin this summer.

“The construction should take about five years and then the remedy itself is going to be operating 30 to 40 years after that,” Innis said. “It takes a long time to clean up the groundwater.”

An environmental investigation and cleanup around the PG&E Compressor Station has been underway since 1997, when a plume of chromium was detected in the groundwater. 

From 1951 to 1985, PG&E used hexavalent chromium as a corrosion inhibitor for the facility’s gas compression cooling tower. From 1951 to 1964, the hexavalent chromium was dumped into dry washes and treated wastewater was discharged into ponds for storage and evaporation. Eventually, hexavalent chromium seeped into the groundwater and created a plume under PG&E’s compression station. 

PG&E self-reported contamination of the groundwater in 1996 and testing located an underground plume from 28 to 35 feet below ground and covering about 150 acres. Operations at the station also resulted in contamination of soils located both inside and outside the station’s fence line. 

There has been no detection of the chemical in the Colorado River and no contaminated drinking water wells in the area.

“I was wondering how they were going to fix this,” said Sandy Kirksey, who attended the open house with her husband, Scott. “They made PG&E accountable and it’s reassuring that it’s not penetrated into the river.”

Curt Russell, PG&E Topock Cleanup project manager, said “Number one, this is a problem that is being addressed by PG&E and by the regulatory agencies; we want people to know that PG&E is working with the federal and state agencies to implement the project as designed and as approved and we believe that by going forward it makes the environment better.”

Russell said the estimated original amount of contamination was about 30,000 pounds of hexavalent chromium; an interim remedy installed in 2005 has removed roughly a quarter of the contaminant.

“The rest of it is intended to be removed by the new system we’re putting in place,” Russell said.

A number of years ago, a study was done to measure the naturally occurring levels of hexavalent chromium in the region’s groundwater; the goal, Russell said, is to clean up the plume so that everything will be below the naturally occurring background levels.

A number of agencies own land in the region, including the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe.

“My main role is that I am responsible for making sure we’re informing Native American tribes properly,” said Jason West, Bureau of Land Management field manager, Lake Havasu City branch. “This is a very sacred area to the Fort Mojave tribe, along with several others.”

BLM representatives meet monthly with six to nine area tribes, provide a tribal liaison and an archeologist so the plans consider the cultural landscape and preserve the tribes’ federal rights.

“We include the tribes on a grand scale,” West said. “Within and among the tribes there are different perspectives — our goal is to get all of the perspectives and concerns realized and, if possible, mitigate those concerns.”

Mohave County District 5 Sup. Lois Wakimoto also attended the open house to learn about the project.

“It’s really difficult to be sensitive to all the needs of all the communities in this area and I think they’re trying to do a good job,” Wakimoto said. “It’s an important project.”

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