San Joaquin Valley communities seeing unhealthy levels of toxins in water

KINGSBURG, Calif. (KFSN) -- Turning on the tap may seem harmless, but communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley are seeing unhealthy levels of toxins turn up in the water.

Kingsburg City Leaders say most residents could not tell anything was wrong with the drinking water, but years of testing showed unregulated chemicals were found.

"It's not a sight or a taste or a smell thing,' says Kingsburg City Manager Alex Henderson. "What it is is that we have to test for a number of chemicals and have for a very long time."

What they discovered was TCP, a fumigant last used by farmers in the 1980s.

Kingsburg had been working to hold the companies that made this contaminant in the ground accountable -- in this case, Dow and Shell.

After six years of litigation, the city recently reached a settlement agreement with the companies to cover the cost to filter the water as well as ongoing maintenance. Those improvements are multi-million dollar projects.

"We've positioned ourselves well from the settlement and just from a timing standpoint and act relatively quickly, and the City Council has been pretty adamant that we have to get this up and running as quickly as we can," Henderson said.

The city expects to turn this fenced-off piece of land into a new water treatment facility by the summer.

Pipes have already been laid that will pump the water from the wells to the new tanks that will, in turn, lead to the filters, which will remove impurities and send it in to the water system.

"It's not new technology," Henderson said. "It's actually tested and proven technology, and it's proven to be the most effective and cost-effective."

Kingsburg's settlement comes about three years after a jury awarded the City of Clovis nearly $22 million against Shell after raised levels of toxins were also found in drinking water wells.

Because of that legal settlement, residents will not have to worry about water bill hikes, as the construction and operation costs will not be passed along to customers.
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