City sends chromium-6 comment letter to state water agency

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The City of Winters sent the State Water Resources Control Board a letter in response to their Notice of Preparation (NOP) of a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the state’s chromium-6 standard.

Mayor Wade Cowan sent a nine-page letter dated Dec. 6 on behalf of the City of Winters urging the Board to consider “reasonably foreseeable methods of compliance” when setting the state’s chromium-6 standard.

Also known as hexavalent chromium, chromium-6 is toxic and occurs naturally as existing chromium deposits in soil erode. It is also created through industrial processes and pollutes water systems from a variety of industrial uses.

Chromium-6 was the subject of the 2000 academy award winning film “Erin Brockovich,” where dangerous levels were present for decades in the drinking water of Hinkley, Calif. A class action lawsuit against PG&E settled in 1996 with PG&E paying out $333 million.

Cowan wrote that Winters relies on five groundwater wells and confirmed that testing of the city’s water has consistently registered chromium-6 levels between 7.2 and 17 parts per billion (ppb). The Board’s draft EIR proposes consideration for setting a new maximum level threshold between 1-15, 20 or 25 ppb.

“The City is concerned that an unduly stringent MCL (maximum contaminant level) might require the City to construct economically-infeasible facilities at enormous cost,” Cowan stated.

Cowan suggested that such a move could result in shutting down the city’s groundwater wells, leaving the city without the means to provide water to residents.

The city’s water quality became a cause for concern in 2014 when the state adopted a strict upper MCL limit of 10 ppb. This threshold remained in effect until 2017 when the Board was ordered by the Superior Court of Sacramento to delete the chromium MCL standard for drinking water, citing that the board “failed to properly consider the economic feasibility of complying with the MCL.”

The Board replied that it would not enforce compliance plans for total chromium standards below 50 ppb. The court also ordered the State Water Board to adopt a new MCL for chromium-6, which it appears it is now undertaking.

In response to the 2014 standard of 10 ppb, the city approved a compliance plan estimated to cost between $27.9 million and $47 million. To finance such an undertaking, Cowan wrote that the typical Winters residential customer could see an increase in their monthly water bill of 305 percent to 431 percent.

“The City’s ratepayers cannot afford such drastic increases amidst the challenges of surging inflation and the Covid-19 pandemic,” the letter stated.

Cowan’s comments relative to the EIR referenced direct and indirect impacts that the EIR must identify, analyze and mitigate to the extent feasible. Concerns listed were the economic, environmental and cumulative impacts as well as consideration of alternative options.

The letter in its entirety can be viewed on the City of Winters’ website (http://www.cityofwinters.org/) in the Dec. 7 City Council meeting packet starting on page 115.

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