BY ROBERT P. MADER
Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
RIALTO, CALIF. — The city of Rialto is experiencing such a severe water shortage that it’s giving away Home Depot gift cards specifically for water-saving toilets and showerheads.
In mid-July the city called on its citizens, businesses and public officials to begin immediately to curtail water use as much as possible. Rapidly advancing perchlorate contamination and a five-year drought have reduced the city’s water supplies to emergency levels, according to the city government.
To help residents conserve water, the city has allocated money to provide free low-flow showerheads and toilets to Rialto residents. The local Home Depot has agreed to sell the city its standard low-flow toilets and showerheads at cost. Residents can obtain the new fixtures at no charge by presenting proof of residency plus their old toilets or showerheads to the City of Rialto’s Public Works Department. The city will provide the residents a voucher, which they can take to The Home Depot.
Home Depot representative Kathrine Gallagher said the store and the city had worked it out so that they had gift cards for 486 toilets, 60 showerheads and 20 for a combination of both.
“That gets a household started,” Gallagher said. “If they want to upgrade to a higher quality model, they can upgrade for not much more money.”
Home Depot and the city had settled on the Eljer Patriot round bowl toilet for $75.43 and Resources Conservation Incredible Showerhead for $12.90. Installation of the products is up to the homeowner, she said.
Rialto also had notified Marygold Mutual Water Co., which serves 1,000 homes, and the Kaiser Permanente hospital that their water supplies might be cut back substantially or interrupted.
Representatives for both the water company and the hospital said that they had arranged to buy water from the nearby Fontana Water Co.
The city said it was asking residents to voluntarily remove old toilets and showerheads and replace them with free low-flow models and to repair or replace leaking faucets and hoses.
Rialto relies on local water supplies. The city has always been able to meet demand and supply water to the smaller Marygold Mutual Water Co.
Because of the ongoing drought, the water levels in the city’s wells have dropped significantly in the past two years. In addition, perchlorate has seeped into ground water, forcing the closure of five of the city’s 13 wells. Since 2001, the city has lost 40% of its water supply and the perchlorate plume is moving toward the city’s wells at an estimated 3 to 6 ft. per day.
The perchlorate is a propellant that is used in the manufacturing of rockets and fireworks. Since the 1940s a number of businesses were located in Rialto to manufacture, store and ship weapons. It is believed that perchlorate leached into the soil from 50 years of manufacturing.
The city has contracted with a firm to clean two of its wells, although cleanup is costly and time consuming. The city is actively pursuing state and federal funding to clean up the closed wells and perhaps stall the spread of perchlorate. It was planning to send a delegation to Washington to meet with federal officials to seek help.
Meantime, environmentalists criticized the federal government for not cleaning up the perchlorate.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Pentagon official who in May circulated draft guidelines for perchlorate testing at all active, inactive and closed military sites is now backing off after being pressured by senior military officials. After those officials complained that the plan is too costly and the science on perchlorate risks too uncertain, John Paul Woodley, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for the environment, halted the study.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has delayed issuing the first-ever national standard in drinking water for perchlorate largely because the Defense Department has challenged the agency’s authority to regulate the chemical, according to NRDC.
DOD maintains that perchlorate is safe up to 200 parts per billion whereas the EPA is considering a standard of about 1 ppb. Because of the ongoing dispute between EPA and White House-backed DOD, the EPA last year asked the National Academies of Science to review its draft report on the public health risks of perchlorate — a process that is expected to delay a new drinking water standard until at least 2006.