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SACRAMENTO, Calif. May 7, 2018 — The Center for Biological Diversity filed an appeal today challenging the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s decision to allow continued dumping of toxic oil-waste fluid into 83 unlined pits near Buttonwillow, Calif. The board’s staff confirmed that harmful chemicals discharged into these pits have migrated to groundwater and contaminated multiple aquifers in Kern County.
“The regional board has utterly failed in its duty to protect California’s groundwater from chemicals that make us sick,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center. “The community shouldn’t have to sacrifice its precious water resources just so the oil industry can save a few bucks on wastewater disposal.”
Valley Water Management Company dumps an average of 2.8 million gallons of chemical-laden wastewater per day into its McKittrick 1 and 1-3 pit facilities near Buttonwillow. The contamination has spread underground for at least 2.2 miles, but the full extent of the damage is still unknown.
At its meeting on April 5, the regional board rejected calls to stop Valley Water’s discharges into the pits, allowing the dumping to continue indefinitely. Today’s appeal calls upon the State Water Resources Control Board to rescind the regional board’s decision and order an immediate halt to the discharges.
The regional board’s staff report confirms that wastewater has reached multiple groundwater sources below, including those connected to active water-supply wells. It also confirms that the discharged wastewater contains hazardous chemicals, including dangerous levels of cancer-causing benzene.
As a result of the contamination, groundwater that had been suitable for municipal and agricultural use is now unsuitable for both.
California is one of the only states in the country that allows disposal into unlined pits. There are hundreds of active pits around the state. In 2015 an independent scientific panel recommended that California phase out the use of unlined pits, citing their danger to groundwater.
“For the sake of the Central Valley’s health and economy, the state board must step in and halt the dangerous discharges at this facility now,” Lakewood said. “Every day the water boards refuse to act, the contamination will get worse.”