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Groundwater contamination an issue at Willard Bay spill site, Chevron to be cited

WILLARD, Box Elder County — Diesel fuel from a weeks-old pipeline rupture has been seeping into the groundwater and making its way toward Willard Bay, where water quality scientists detected elevated levels of contaminants.

Chevron, operator of the pipeline, constructed an "interceptor" drain to collect the groundwater before any more of it can reach the popular reservoir, which is valued by anglers and boaters for its recreational value and proximity to Wasatch Front residents.

Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said the contaminated groundwater had been flowing west from the spill site to the bay.

"It has decreased, that is the good news, but it is still a concern to us," Baker said. "It has dissolved in the groundwater. … It is a little tougher to pick out. We noticed on the beach that you could smell these volatile organic compounds. You knew they were there even though you could not see them."

While the immediate area where the spill occurred as been cleaned, Baker said it is the groundwater contamination that remains the key concern.

"Chevron is trying to understand how widespread the effect of this may be," he said.

The Division of Water Quality, he added, is preparing a notice of violation for Chevron that is expected to be given to the company by week's end — for the discharge of pollutants into a waterway.

"This is different from the other (Chevron) pipeline spill," which Baker said was categorized as an act of God because of the lightening storm blamed for the rupture in the June 2010 event.

"This doesn't appear to be the case," he said. "There's a 6- or 7-foot length of pipe that split along the seam that raises concerns if there are other sections of the pipe that will experience other problems."

Baker said 3,000 gallons of the 600-barrel spill on March 18 remain unaccounted for.

The groundwater contamination appears isolated at the Willard Bay State Park where the spill occurred and is not affecting any culinary water supplies, as far as state and Willard City officials know.

Teri Fellenz, Willard recorder, said the town gets its drinking water from wells and springs up on the hillside — far from I-15 and Willard Bay.

"There is nothing we've heard that would cause us concern over the water supply," she said.

The unfortunate fallout that continues from the spill is the closure of the state park's North Marina and campground, which Utah State Parks Director Fred Hayes said will likely remain shuttered into Memorial Day weekend.

"This isn't good news. We want it cleaned up right," Hayes said, adding that having the closure in place for Memorial Day — the kickoff weekend for summer recreation — stings.

"This is significant for us," he said. "People flock there when the fishing is on."

The Division of Water Quality and Chevron have been in talks about compensation for lost revenue, which Hayes said remains under analysis.

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