Water Leaders Fight Plan for Deeper Pits at Azusa Dump

Times Staff Writer

A group of water industry leaders who fear that an Azusa dump could contaminate the area's underground water supply are trying to block the dump's plan to bury trash at new, deeper levels.

The Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster board, which administers water rights, will oppose the Azusa Land Reclamation Co.'s disposal plan at a Nov. 23 hearing. The session will be conducted by the Los Angeles region's state Water Quality Control Board at its office at 107 S. Broadway.

The board will decide whether to issue a permit to allow Azusa Land Reclamation Co. to begin filling the remaining 222 acres in its 302-acre landfill.

The company says approval of the permit would keep a vitally needed trash disposal facility open.

Atop Water Basin

But water officials say there must be a better place for a dump than atop a water basin that serves a million people.

Frank Sheets, a consultant to the landfill owners, said trash disposal is currently limited to an 80-acre area that will be full in about two years.

The dump, which was recently purchased by a subsidiary of Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., is on Gladstone Street, a mile south of the Foothill Freeway. Sheets, former general manager of the dump, said it receives 2,000 tons of household and general commercial trash a day, mostly from cities along the foothills from Pasadena to La Verne. Sheets said the company has applied to the county in separate proceedings to increase its volume to 6,000 tons of trash a day.

Transit Mixed Concrete Co., which formerly owned the dump, mines it for sand and gravel, leaving pits to be filled by trash.

Sheets said that in order to expand disposal beyond the current 80 acres, the dump must install a drain system to collect and remove liquids and place a liner under the trash. These requirements, part of a package of regulations adopted in recent years by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and then by the state, are designed to keep contaminants from seeping into ground water.

Already Tainted

Ground water in the San Gabriel Valley is already so badly contaminated with chemical compounds that four areas have been placed on the federal Superfund cleanup list.

Robert Berlien, assistant secretary to the watermaster, said the sources of contamination have not been determined, but "a lot of water producers feel there is a significant amount from dumps."

Berlien said this concern has prompted the watermaster board to adopt a policy opposing new or expanded landfills in the San Gabriel Valley.

He said Azusa Land Reclamation Co. contends that its plan does not represent an expansion because the entire 302-acre area has already been designated as a landfill. But, he said, the watermaster board is "treating it as an expansion" because disposal would occur in areas where trash has not yet been buried.

Below 1944 Level

Berlien said there is special concern because the proposal calls for putting trash in pits as low as 330 feet above sea level, which is 15 feet below the level that ground water reached in 1944. If water rises that high again, Berlien said, it would submerge the new trash deposits.

But Sheets said ground water is not going to reach the 1944 level again because the San Gabriel Valley has changed. Population growth has increased water consumption, he said, so that more water is being pumped out of the ground. In addition, he said, the amount of rainwater that can percolate down through the soil has been reduced because so much land is covered with buildings and pavement.

"We have done a considerable amount of research on that," Sheets said, contending that the highest anticipated water level at the dump is 309 feet above sea level. (Street elevation at the dump is 520 feet above sea level).

Quang Nguyen, an engineer with the water board, said the dump's proposal conforms with state and federal regulations. Although dumping in the 80-acre area has been restricted to 10 feet above the historic high water mark, Nguyen said the new dumping area is being established under the new regulations, which allow the floor to be five feet above the "anticipated" high water level.

Level Never Returned

Nguyen said he agrees with the dump operators that the "anticipated" level is below the 1944 figure. He noted that there have been years of higher rainfall than 1944 since then, but the water table has never returned to that level. He said water in wells near the dump is currently at 247 feet above sea level.

But Thomas Stetson, the watermaster engineer, said it is a mistake to assume that ground water levels will remain lower than they were in the 1940s.

He noted that water purchased from the Metropolitan Water District flows into the ground near the Azusa dump. Stetson said the San Gabriel Valley gets the water at a discount by buying it when the demand from other customers is low. But low-demand periods are becoming shorter, Stetson said, and the result could be that more water will be flowing into the ground near the dump in a shorter period of time, pushing ground water levels sharply upward.

Won't Prevent Rise

Stetson said the new regulations requiring liners under trash are designed to prevent contaminants from seeping downward into ground water, but will not prevent ground water from rising upward into trash.

The Azusa Land Reclamation Co. proposal divides the remaining 222 acres of the landfill into three areas. The first section of 9.6 acres already contains asphalt, tires and other inert materials. Layers of gravel and soil would be placed on top of the inert materials to create a new disposal area.

The second section of 16 acres would be covered with a liner of five layers of soil and gravel, including a foot-thick layer of clay.

Sheets said the remaining area will be developed in sections after the first two areas are full, which could take five to 10 years.

The entire landfill has about 20 years' capacity remaining, based on a daily disposal rate of 4,500 to 6,000 tons of trash a day.

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