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Did PG&E learn anything from Hinkley disaster?

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POSTED January 30, 2010 2:57 a.m.
How can PG&E get a free pass from strict California water quality standards involving what can be discharged into the San Joaquin River and Delta when municipalities, farmers, and other businesses are held to significantly higher standards?

It can no longer be a defense that PG&E – and other California utilities – that already have lines in place in areas with water table issues can simply do as they please when they put in new pipelines on the argument they did it before and it was OK.

This is 2010, not 1955. The entire world has changed and is being required to march to higher environmental standards regardless of how inconsequential a proposed action may seem.

PG&E wants to place a new 24-inch natural gas pipeline in the ground south of Manteca. That in its self shouldn’t cause anyone to have a heart attack or to scream foul except for one small detail. The water table is high in the area and PG&E was planning to pump the water into the SSJID canals and pipelines to get rid of it.

That’s all fine and good but no other outside agency can do that legally without getting a federal and state discharge permit. Why? The water is dumped into the San Joaquin River and ultimately into the Delta.

Manteca – which has a signed agreement to use SSJID lines for such purposes – had to get a clearance to make sure they complied with all clean water standards to simply send street run-off from storms into the SSJID lines and out to the river.

The real question is what may be in the water that PG&E will be pumping out and ultimately into the fragile ecosystem of the Delta? Has anyone done a survey to make sure there are no old in-ground gas tanks in the area? There is a reason why farmers – and almost any other business operation that can – has switched to above ground storage for fuel.

It is why you often see gas stations shut down and repairs going on to make sure their underground tanks don’t leak into the water table.

For all we know – or PG&E for that matter – PG&E could be dumping thousands of gallons of contaminated water into the fragile ecosystem of the Delta.

There is also the issue of other chemicals working their way into the ground. It is why there was clean-up that had to take place at the old Diamond National lumber yard on South Moffat that is now Don’s Mobile Glass. The tab on that clean-up was $20,000.

It is why land near a former ag supply operation on South Main Street where Woodward West homes were built had to go under a study that cost close to $100,000.

And in both those cases, the water table is a lot lower. In places south of Woodward Avenue it is as high as three feet from the surface.

At the very least, there should be a survey of the land involved to make sure there are no old tanks or areas where excessive ag chemicals were used such as a farm storage yard.

It is the minimal that anyone would be required to do before they started sending water into the Delta that over 70 percent of California relies on as a source of drinking water plus other urban uses and to irrigate crops that grow our food.

PG&E has a rather checkered past of contaminating drinking water supplies.

Given PG&E’s experience in Hinkley in the Mojave Desert where their natural gas operations severely contaminated the town’s groundwater with hexavalent chromium that was exposed by Erin Brockovich you’d think that the San Francisco-based for-profit utility would be a little more sensitive about water quality.

If the State of California doesn’t trust anyone else to protect our water without first going through an exhaustive environmental review process, how can they possibly entrust PG&E which for years worked diligently to cover up the contamination in Hinkley?

It’s bad enough when PG&E knows what they’re doing to water quality. Why should we trust PG&E in this case when they don’t even know what they will be sending into the SSJID system?

PG&E – according to SSJID – didn’t even follow the rudimentary process for simply submitting the plans. It makes you wonder just how much thought they give to plopping down natural gas pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas.

We can ill afford to let PG&E simply do what they feel like because that is how it was done 50 years ago or on the assumption they can hide behind an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act that most certainly isn’t broad enough to allow the wanton discharge of water that has a strong potential to be contaminated into the Delta without first checking to make sure it isn’t severely contaminated.
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