A new bill introduced to Congress could make Santa Barbara’s water a little safer to drink.
The Drinking Water Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), would allow Congress to spend $200 million per year to clean Central Coast water supplies contaminated by the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE). The cleanup would be funded by the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) trust fund, which comes from a one-tenth of a cent per gallon motor fuel tax for the purpose of cleaning up leaking tanks.
“We cannot afford to gamble with the safety of our drinking water,” Capps said in a statement released March 5. “We already know MTBE has contaminated groundwater throughout the Central Coast, and we must do more to aggressively clean up these polluted water supplies.”
Owners and operators of underground petroleum storage tanks are primarily responsible for financing this cleanup, but the LUST fund provides additional resources for when the responsible party cannot be found or cannot meet the financial obligation. The fund is used for assessment, cleanup, inspection and groundwater monitoring associated with MTBE contamination.
“Since the LUST fund’s inception, Congress has only spent about 40 percent of the available funds, which at the end of the year will stand at $2.1 billion. It simply does not make sense to let this money sit untouched while water is contaminated across the country. MTBE sites will continue to endanger our communities unless we provide states and localities with the resources they need to make sure remediation efforts are both swift and effective,” Capps said in her statement.
There are 93 known contaminated sites in Santa Barbara County, 48 in San Luis Obispo County and 50 sites in Ventura County, according to the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The American Petroleum Institute says the standard amount of MTBE in contaminated water is 20 to 40 parts per billion, at least 20,000 times lower than the range of exposure levels that produced cancer in animal toxicology studies.