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Posted on February 2, 2012

Hinkley: School to Get New Water System After PG&E, Water Board Reach Settlement

Hinkley school

As a result of the settlement, the Hinkley School will get a new water system. (Photo by Matt Nauman.)

By Tracy Correa

PG&E has reached a $3.6 million agreement with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board regarding its groundwater cleanup efforts in the town of Hinkley – with half of the funds going to build a new water system at Hinkley Elementary School.

As part of the settlement, the water board will not initiate formal legal action against PG&E related to the board’s claim that the utility violated a 2008 cleanup and abatement order related to a plume of hexavalent chromium. PG&E used chromium to prevent rust in cooling towers at the natural-gas compressor station in Hinkley during the 1950s and 1960s – a common industry practice at the time.

By entering into the agreement, PG&E is not admitting to any violations. The settlement will be finalized after 30 days of public input and approval by the water board.

“Rather than pursuing an extended dispute, both PG&E and the water board felt it was in the best interest of the community to resolve the issue and continue our focus on the cleanup,” Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman, said on Wednesday (Feb. 1).

Water board officials also said the agreement is in the best interest of the community.

PG&E officials have insisted the Hinkley community benefit from the financial settlement and its team worked to maximize the amount of funding available to the local community. The plan to build a new water system at Hinkley Elementary School reflects the sentiments expressed by the local Community Advisory Committee that was launched last year as well as by other community members. The remaining $1.8 million from the agreement will go to a fund administered by the State Water Board.

The school’s water supply always has tested below background for chromium and chromium 6. The proposed replacement water comes from outside of the plume that consistently tests below the levels of chromium 6 at the school.

The utility has taken responsibility for and worked to clean up the plume of contamination from hexavalent chromium. The 2008 order required that PG&E prevent the chromium plume from moving to areas that were previously below natural background chromium levels. PG&E and the water board disagree on whether specific well data shows movement of the plume to areas previously below background.

The proposed agreement resolves all pending issues related to the 2008 cleanup and abatement order. It also imposes new plume control requirements that PG&E must meet.

PG&E’s top officials have stressed the company’s ongoing commitment to remedy the situation in Hinkley.

“The people in this community have been through a lot, and we are sorry for that. I can tell you that we are committed to cleaning up the impacted area, with our first priority being the health and safety of the community,” Des Bell, PG&E’s senior vice president in charge of the work, said in a December (2011) interview.

(Click here to see a video of Des Bell talking about key actions taken by PG&E in Hinkley.)

PG&E has also taken a number of voluntary actions to ease the concerns of residents including providing bottled water and expanding a home-purchase plan.

In 2012, PG&E will continue its work to support the Hinkley community as it makes progress on its environmental cleanup project there. That includes its bottled-water program and monthly meetings of the Community Advisory Committee among other activities.

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