Cease and Desist Order Served on Kern County Oil Field Wastewater Disposal Center Company

By on June 14, 2019

Operations at Valley Water Management Co.’s (VWMC) McKittrick 1 and 1-3 Facility have been called into question by the Central Valley Water Regional Quality Control Board (CVWRQCB). VWMC operates an oil field wastewater disposal center in Kern County.

In California, water and oil are co-mingled in underground oil-bearing geologic formations and both the oil and water are brought to the surface during production.  The water – known of as “produced water” – is known to have naturally occurring contaminants such as boron, chloride and salinity that make the water unsuitable for human consumption or for irrigating agricultural crops.

VWMC maintains 163 acres of unlined disposal ponds in Kern County where the company disposes of poor-quality produced water from the South Belridge, Cymric, and McKittrick oil fields. According to recent VWMC documents the company discharges some 2.8 million gallons of produced water each day. The CVWRQCB has recently determined that the cumulative effect of disposing produced water at the McKittrick facilities over many decades has created a highly saline wastewater plume that is migrating to the northeast. It now threatens higher-quality groundwater designated as supporting municipal and agricultural uses.

The CVWRQCB issued a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) requiring VWMC to either bring its McKittrick 1 and 1-3 facilities into compliance with water quality regulations or stop discharging wastewater at the facility. The specifics of the CDO requires VWMC to complete a full characterization of the nature and extent of wastewater impacts, an important step toward protecting the beneficial uses of groundwater. Additionally, if VWMC cannot prove that its discharges at the facilities are not the cause of the pollution, the CDO requires the company to either upgrade the facilities or cease discharging produced water.

“Valley Water provides a valuable service to the oil industry in Kern County, but discharges from the McKittrick facility must not put groundwater beneficial uses at risk,” said Patrick Pulupa, executive officer of the CVWRQCB. “With this Cease and Desist Order, the Board has said that if this facility cannot be brought into compliance with current regulations, discharges at the facility must cease.”