Sand mining dominates EIR public hearing on Helix recycled water project
Posted by George J Janczyn on March 30, 2011
The Helix Water District held a public meeting last night on the final day that comments could be submitted on the scope of an environmental impact report (EIR) for its El Monte Valley project. [correction: today is the final day for comments]
The project involves a sand mining operation to generate income and reshape the valley floor to accept a series of percolation ponds using purified recycled water to augment the groundwater supply and to restore the land with a variety of environmental and recreational improvements.
The meeting, held at the Lakeside Christian Church on El Monte Road, follows the notice of preparation for the EIR held March 8 at the water district’s headquarters in La Mesa. Last year there had been three stakeholders meetings at the church and other community presentations to gather public input on the project prior to the announcement of the EIR preparation.
Many of the comments made at the earlier stakeholders meetings expressed worries about “toilet to tap” water quality issues as well as about the sand mining operation, but this time the number one issue was overwhelmingly sand mining.
It seemed that the Helix district staff already sensed that would be the case because their standard project overview included a new segment with additional slides and descriptions of what the sand mining operation would look like.
After the brief presentation, person after person from the assembly of 25-30 people complained that the sand mining operation would destroy the valley; meanwhile one woman was soliciting people to add their names to a signup sheet for an opposition group that is organizing.
Although the purpose of the meeting was to gather more suggestions for issues that should be covered by the EIR, most people appeared to consider the meeting a forum for protesting the project. Many complained about the negative effect the project would have on the quality of life for valley residents and neighboring areas. Several people sharply criticized the water district saying that it was ramming the project through without allowing sufficient input from stakeholders. Someone from East County Magazine also asked some pointed questions implying that public input had been inadequate.
One man disputed the district’s estimate regarding income flow from the sand operation, saying that in today’s market existing sand businesses in the county can’t find enough customers. He also suggested that imported water is so much less expensive than the purified water that he couldn’t see the justification for it.
There were some variant points raised. One gentleman wondered if water in the percolation ponds would even be able to penetrate into the aquifer since the nearby El Monte Dam and reservoir contains so much water that it probably percolates into the aquifer and creates hydraulic pressure that would prevent any water on the valley surface from penetrating downward.
Another individual raised a related concern, saying that water from the percolation ponds (and injection wells) constantly supplying the aquifer could disrupt or stop the natural flow of groundwater coming into the valley so that the portion of the aquifer that is upstream from the operation would cease its natural flow into the valley and become stagnant and less usable.
One man claimed that a Golden Eagle nest had been discovered near a dairy in the valley which meant that mining operations would not be permissible within at least 4000 feet of that place, at least during nesting season.
Another concern was that power lines for the various support facilities would not only cause aesthetic problems but could be a safety hazard as well, with a request that underground lines be used instead. Also mentioned was the possible negative effect on neighboring homes by wildlife displaced by the project.
Jim Peugh from the Audubon Society spoke briefly to commend the effort to expand recycled water use. Disclaimer: I also spoke briefly about possible misconceptions about water quality and purified recycled water.
While public perception about indirect potable reuse and water quality will no doubt continue to be a delicate topic to address in the future (as it is with the City of San Diego’s recycled water purification project), it would seem that the most difficulty in bringing the El Monte Valley project to fruition will be in satisfactorily addressing the widespread dissatisfaction over sand mining.