Monday, May 11, 2009

Barstow's Nitrate Problem Being Addressed?

City prepares to begin groundwater cleanup pilot project

May 10, 2009 - 8:42AM

BARSTOW • City officials are expecting to begin construction this week on a pilot project they hope will lead to the clean-up of contaminated groundwater in the Soapmine Road area.

By Nov. 30, the city must provide the Lahontan Regional Water Board with a plan outlining how it will remediate nitrate-laden groundwater in the Soapmine neighborhood. Lahontan determined that the contamination was largely caused by the city irrigating a field west of the Soapmine area with about 1.2 million gallons of treated wastewater per day from 1982 to 2003.

The pilot project would involve pumping up to 100,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater a day through a pipeline across the river to a treatment facility to be built next to the city’s existing wastewater treatment plant. If successful, the system could be expanded to handle about 500,000 gallons a day.

City officials estimated the pilot portion of the cleanup project could cost about $1 million, with the expansion costing another $1 million or more, and ongoing operations and maintenance costs of about $250,000 a year until nitrate levels meet Lahontan’s standards.

Construction on the pilot project can begin Tuesday if the Barstow Planning Commission approves an environmental document declaring the pilot project will not have a significant negative environmental impact at its meeting Monday, according to city Senior Management Analyst Mark Murphy.

City officials had previously hoped to have the pilot project construction completed in March, but the start date was held up in order to complete the environmental documentation.

Some in the city had also discussed a possible alternative that would have involved working with developer Brad Ducich and a group of Virginia-based researchers to create an operation in which ponds full of algae would eat the nitrates, while the algae could be harvested for biofuels and fertilizer.

Murphy said Friday that the algae option is not currently under consideration. Ducich said his team had not heard from the city since a meeting in March, where they outlined their proposal to some city representatives and residents of the Soapmine neighborhood.

Mayor Joe Gomez said, however, he is still hoping to bring Dr. Patrick Hatcher, executive director of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium, to talk to the City Council about the algae plan and determine whether it would be a viable option.

Christina Byrne, a Soapmine Road resident who has been outspoken on the issue of the nitrate pollution, said she would prefer to see the algae option used if it is viable but was unsure whether the city would have enough time to plan and test it before the remediation plan is due.

The city is also planning to build three more monitoring wells in the Soapmine area in an attempt to determine whether there is one large area of nitrate pollution emanating from the former irrigation field or several smaller areas of pollution. Murphy said the city is currently negotiating easement agreements with the property owners.

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