Willard Bay fuel spill has contaminated groundwater

Posted at 5:22 PM, Apr 09, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-09 19:22:50-04

WILLARD BAY, Utah - Scientists have discovered elevated levels of contaminants in the groundwater in the area surrounding a massive fuel spill near Willard Bay earlier this year.

It's been three weeks since 27,500 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into a marsh next to Willard Bay. Fox 13 has learned the contamination may have spread into the bay itself.

This means more trouble for Chevron. Not only will the oil giant be fined, but the Division of Water Quality claims Chevron violated state law.

"Booms have been established along the shoreline at Willard Bay but we've seen hits or contaminants outside the booms," said Walt Baker the Director the Utah Division of Water Quality.

That's what initially raised the question for scientists with the division: Where are these high levels of contaminants coming from?

"The contaminant has now gone down in the wetlands, hit a clay layer and come out into the bay."

That could mean some of the 27,500 gallons of diesel fuel that spilled from a Chevron pipeline March 18 near Willard Bay made it into the reservoir. How much is still a mystery and 3,000 gallons of petroleum has yet to be accounted for.

The groundwater is also now contaminated. Crews have constructed a drain to catch the contaminants. But Baker with the DWQ says people shouldn't be alarmed by the new findings.

"The impact to human health and environment has not been great but it has been an insult to the environment so we need to correct that," Baker said.

Baker told Fox 13 the aquatic life in the bay is fine, although the Department of Health will be testing fish samples next week to make sure.

Fred Hayes, the Director of the Division of Parks and Recreation says, "This is one of the best fisheries in the state. We're hoping that the fishery is not negatively impacted. We haven't seen a lot of fish killed. We've had some, we're hoping the got on it fast enough that we won't see a real damage to the fishery."

In the meantime, the North Marina at Willard Bay, a place where people camp and go fishing, is still closed. The closure means a big hit for the state's pocketbook come Memorial Day weekend.

"That's lost revenue, we would already have people in the campgrounds and picnics and playing on the beach and that's all lost revenue," says Hayes, who is hoping Chevron pays for the financial hit the state will take. "They've told us they would make it right we have not gone down that road yet, we're still in the clean up phase."

Because of this latest discovery, Chevron will be issued a notice of violation, alleging they've broken the Utah Water Quality Act. It's not clear how much the fine will be; that's something that can be negotiated.

As for Chevron's response to all this, they had no comment.