The staff of the State Water Resources Control Board has recommended that the board stop the proposed expansion of an Azusa landfill, siding with water agencies who have called the plan a threat to the San Gabriel Valley’s drinking water.
The state board will hear comments on the recommendation in early June and then schedule a vote.
If the board follows its staff recommendation, it will overturn a decision by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board last November to permit the Azusa Land Reclamation Co. to expand trash disposal in a sand and gravel quarry.
The dump owners told the regional board that they would install a foot-thick layer of clay and a plastic liner in the new trash disposal areas to keep pollutants from seeping downward into ground water. The board approved the plan on a 4-3 vote.
The Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster, an organization of water producers, appealed the decision to the state board. It argued that placing a dump atop porous sand and gravel is inherently dangerous to ground water and that all dumps, no matter how well lined, eventually leak.
In a 15-page analysis, the state board staff accepted the Watermaster arguments, concluding that the safeguards proposed for the landfill will not protect the area’s ground water.
The report quotes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as declaring that no liner “can contain liquids for all time. . . . Eventually liners will either degrade, tear or crack and will allow liquids to migrate.”
In the porous soil under the landfill, the report notes, pollutants could travel downward five feet in two and a half days.
The report says a liner and liquid collection system are adequate protection in most landfills, but “in this case, should a leak occur, infiltration to ground water will be rapid, and the record demonstrates the vulnerability of the ground water basin to pollution.”
Much of the Main San Gabriel Basin, which extends from Alhambra to La Verne, is contaminated with industrial solvents. The Environmental Protection Agency has begun a cleanup that it says could take hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of work.
Ric Spencer, district manager for the landfill company, said the water board staff recommendation is based on faulty analysis of the information that it received.
“It appears to us that there has been a misinterpretation of the data we submitted,” Spencer said.
The water board staff used data from the landfill to show that ground water could rise and invade the areas where trash would be buried. But, Spencer said, “The water has never been that high.”
In addition, Spencer said, the liner system proposed by his company is more effective than the staff analysis suggests. He said that the safeguards proposed for the Azusa landfill, which handles household trash, are as stringent as those required for hazardous waste landfills.
Spencer said the Azusa landfill, which receives 1,500 to 2,000 tons of trash a day, serves 13 cities. If it cannot expand its disposal area, the landfill will have to close, aggravating the region’s shortage of trash disposal space, he said. Exactly when the Azusa landfill will be full depends on the rate at which it accepts trash, but officials have said closure could come in one to three years.
The dump occupies 80 acres and its operators want to expand it in stages until it reaches the remainder of the 302-acre quarry.
Robert Berlien, general manager of the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, said water producers are not opposed to landfills in the San Gabriel Valley as long as they are in suitable areas. For example, he said, water producers have no objection to the Puente Hills landfill, which is in a canyon removed from ground water.
But the Azusa landfill, he said, sits on porous soil atop ground water and near sites where imported water is allowed to seep into the ground for storage.
“It’s not a good place for a dump,” he said.