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HINKLEY — Pacific Gas and Electric sent letters to Hinkley residents Wednesday announcing its decision to phase out bottled water deliveries and maintenance of whole house water units by Nov. 1.
Jeff Smith, executive communications manager for PG&E, said the decision to phase out these programs within 90 days is based on a July 18 letter written by Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board executive officer Patty Z. Kouyoumdjian. In it, Kouyoumdjian informed three residents that all of Hinkley’s drinking water wells now meet the new California standard of 10 parts per billion for chromium-6, meaning it is safe to drink. The new state standard took effect July 1.
“Essentially, we are letting folks know that during the next three months we will be phasing out these programs,” Smith said. “The state has said nobody in Hinkley has drinking water exceeding that standard.”
Smith said the bottled water program was originally offered in November 2010 and the whole house replacement water systems were originally offered in 2012. He said the goal of the programs was to help ease any anxiety Hinkley residents were still feeling, in part because the state had no standard for chromium-6 at the time.
“That is why we came up with these programs. And we said at the time, once the state set drinking water standards, we would re-evaluate the programs,” Smith said. “It has now come to that point.”
These programs came years after it was discovered that PG&E was responsible for toxic levels of chromium-6 contaminating the community’s groundwater.
Lauri Kemper, assistant executive officer with the Lahontan water board, said she expected PG&E to discontinue the programs.
“We no longer have the authority to order PG&E to continue the water programs due to the drinking water standards set by the state,” she said.
Hinkley resident Roberta Walker said she is disappointed with PG&E’s decision.
“It’s really sad,” said Walker, who also sits on the Community Advisory Committee. “It’s all political. It’s all about money. The water board has the job to protect the public health goal. This is not the public health goal. It really isn’t.”
Walker says she is getting bottled water deliveries from PG&E. Although her home is without the whole water unit from PG&E, she does have a soft water filtering system she bought. The well where she gets her drinking water was recently tested for chromium-6 and registered 1.8 ppb. Walker claims residents are planning to start a petition drive disputing the MCL (maximum chromium level).
“They (PG&E) said, ‘what can we do to earn your trust? Help the community?’ Well for starters, continue with the water programs. Give us a little assurance we are not drinking this crap,” Walker said. “It’s not over. Not until I breathe my last breath will it be over.”
Another Hinkley resident, David Cheney, said he is pleased with PG&E’s decision.
“I’m glad to see things finally winding down out here,” he said. “Especially for those of us that chose to stay. I look forward to the demise of the Hinkley stigma. I consider the water that comes from my well to be some of the best in the state. This is based on my Title 22 water report.
“There are certainly areas in Hinkley where the water isn’t as good and I’m very fortunate to have the quality of water that I do. There are no domestic wells in Hinkley with chromium-6 levels that exceed the 10 ppb MCL that has been established by the health department. So it’s time to move on.”
While Penny Harper believes some of her neighbors will be disappointed, she said the decision was inevitable.
“The original letter stated the conditions of the whole house treatment systems,” she said. “PG&E set maintenance for them at five years or when the state came forward with drinking water standards.”
Smith said about 250 letters were sent out. More than 200 were sent to residents receiving bottled water and more than 30 letters were sent to those residents using the whole home water units.
Smith said PG&E will be talking to those residents with the whole water units about their plans to keep the system or use parts of the system. The homeowner purchasing a water system that would cost less to maintain would be another option. He said it costs between $2,000 to $10,000 a year to maintain the whole house water units provided by PG&E.
Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-256-4127 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @mlambdispatch.