Rialto declares emergency on drinking water

Times Staff Writer

Rialto city officials have declared a state of emergency, citing concerns about a shrinking water supply in danger of further contamination by dangerous chemicals.

The City Council voted on the declaration Tuesday in an attempt to secure state funding to halt the spread of industrial perchlorate in city groundwater. The growing, six-mile-long chemical plume in the north end of the San Bernardino County city contaminates 360 million gallons of groundwater each month.

“It’s time now that somebody heard us and helped us,” said Mayor Grace Vargas. “We need to protect our citizens.”


The declaration criticizes state and local regulatory agencies for failing to aggressively enforce cleanup efforts, and warns that Rialto would be “extremely vulnerable” in the event of a “catastrophic interruption” of its clean water supply.

Although the city says its safeguards prevent residents from drinking polluted water, the plume grows about 20 inches a day and poses a growing threat to nearby communities such as Colton, officials said.

The wet winter of several years ago caused the levels of perchlorate in water samples to spike, said Rialto Mayor Pro Tem Winnie Hanson. About half a dozen wells are affected by contamination, said Councilman Ed Scott.

In addition, Hanson said, drought conditions and water shortages in Northern California have increased pressure on Rialto’s aquifer, the city’s main source of drinking water.

“It is now beyond the city’s water department to continue to provide a safe, affordable and reliable water supply,” states the city declaration, which cautions that Rialto might have to impose water rationing or a moratorium on new water hookups.

“It’s really jeopardizing our growth,” Scott said.

The city has spent an estimated $20 million over several years on cleanup efforts and legal fees in an ongoing lawsuit against several corporations that it blames for causing the pollution at a 160-acre site, Hanson said.


More than 40 companies are alleged to be involved in the contamination, including Goodrich Corp., Pyro Spectaculars and Black & Decker. The cleanup could cost as much as $300 million.

Perchlorate, used in rocket fuel, batteries and fireworks, can interfere with thyroid function and produce birth defects.