It’s easy to take water for granted. The substance pours out of faucets seemingly on demand, without users thinking about its origins.
But residents in the developing community of Diablo Grande have learned in recent months that water reliability is never automatic. For much of the past three to four years, water in the development has contained trihalomethanes. These chemical compounds are formed when chlorine reacts with organic matter, and over time, they can cause cancer and other health problems.
The state Department of Health Services recommends a treatment system that water- and wastewater-treatment plant operator Veolia Water North America estimates would cost $250,000. That’s less than the cost of most homes in Diablo Grande.
Why was such a system not installed four years ago? A citation issued by the health services department June 20 indicated that the state warned the Western Hills Water District, which oversees Diablo Grande’s water operations, long ago about potential problems with byproducts like trihalomethanes and directed the district to study them. The district did not comply, claiming the district’s water treatment technology was so efficient in removing surface-water contaminants that there would be little for the chlorine to react with.
Apparently, the district was wrong, and the community’s water situation is now a mess.
Rightly or wrongly, Diablo Grande residents who are experiencing health problems are now speculating whether the water might be to blame.
As the city of Patterson ponders future growth and the county plans a 4,800-acre industrial park in Crows Landing, there are lessons to be learned from Diablo Grande.
The environmental impact report for the PCCP West Park project must carefully question not only the availability of a water source, but also its quality and accessibility. No one should be so foolish as to put faith in an environmental review “process,” as a process is only as good as the people who enforce it.
In the case of West Park, the county board of supervisors will have the final say on that document. Supervisors also approved Diablo Grande’s first environmental impact report in 1993 — a document that ultimately was challenged by several environmental organizations.
Patterson leaders also have much to learn from the developing community. The city’s water consultant has said demand for drinking water may exceed supply by 2012, and an excess of nitrates has already shut down a city well.
The city is wise to begin looking at other water-use options, such as using nonpotable sources for landscaping. Water quality and reliability also must be ensured for future years.
Regional cooperation with other West Side communities and responsible growth will be necessary as the city and county move forward. The West Side is a naturally water-poor area, but with proper planning, we can develop intelligently.
In the meantime, Diablo Grande’s water problems must be solved immediately. There’s no excuse for prolonging a problem that could have been solved years ago.