May 09, 2018

Orange County Groundwater Cleanup Site Receiving Increased Attention Amidst Contamination Dispute

The long-gestating dispute may come to a head following the release of court-ordered emails

An Orange County groundwater basin is the subject of increased attention for potential federal aid

The North Orange County Groundwater Basin has long been mired in conflict between the business community present there and the Orange County Water District (OCWD). There has been an ongoing cleanup effort to remove chemical contamination from the waters, but the process has dragged on into a 15-year dispute between the two parties.

The water district has long desired the federal aid of the U.S. EPA in successfully cleaning the site, and that wish may soon come true as the site is being given increased federal attention as the agency considers the site’s potential declaration as a Superfund site.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been shrouded in controversy over recent weeks regarding various accusations of corruption, and the recently released emails only further that controversy according to certain parties. The emails were released as a result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club, and the organization has consistently derided Pruitt for actions that “undermine the core mission of the environmental agency.”

“Under the law these documents should have been forthcoming, but we had to take Pruitt to court to get them and now it’s clear why,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “These documents expose a deeply rooted culture of corruption surrounding Scott Pruitt and his dealings in essentially every aspect of his job.”

Despite such claims, OCWD General Manager Mike Markus claims that the water district has been in direct contact with EPA since 2014, before Pruitt’s incumbency, and that no inappropriate actions took place throughout the dealings.

“Who got the meeting is irrelevant,” Markus said. “It was a legitimate meeting to discuss an issue that is a core function of the EPA.”

The North Orange County Groundwater Basin has been significantly polluted for several years due to industrial chemicals sourced from Anaheim and Fullerton in California. Water quality in the compromised aquifer has consistently been declared safe, but water district workers are wary of potential contamination spreading to drinking water.