Inland Empire Utilities’ Board President receives inaugural WaterNow Alliance Impact Award

By on May 18, 2017

Steve Elie, Inland Empire Utilities Agency’s (IEUA) board president, is the inaugural recipient of the WaterNow Alliance Impact Award recognizing his leadership in the negotiations of a non-litigated resolution of a longstanding groundwater contamination in the city of Ontario, in southwestern San Bernardino County.

A cleanup order had originally been issued to the cities of Ontario and Upland, as well as six other entities, for the trichloroethylene (TCE) groundwater plume. In addition to the two cities, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc., the Boeing Company, General Electric Company, Lockheed Martin and the United States Department of Defense worked together to address the plume.

Elie’s leadership was key in developing the multiagency/private business agreement for the cleanup effort.  Following several decades of discussion and a lack of progress on solving the problems caused by the contamination, IEUA stepped forward to do the right thing for the region and offered to fund significant cleanup infrastructure costs, without regard to liability. Elie recognized the urgent need for a community-wide solution and used IEUA’s resources to secure state and federal grants, including a pledge of IEUA’s own funding as backup, for resolution of the problem. These actions were key in a successfully negotiated resolution without the need to resort to litigation.

TCE is a halocarbon – a volatile organic compound — and was widely used as an industrial degreasing and cleaning solvent beginning in the mid-1940s. It is a clear non-flammable liquid with a sweet smell. Groundwater contamination by TCE has become an important environmental concern for human exposure.

TCE use declined in the 1970s after environmental and economic concerns surfaced regarding its use. The US Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2005 they had completed a Final Health Assessment for Trichloroethylene and released a list of new TCE toxicity values. The results of the study have formally characterized the chemical as a human carcinogen and a non-carcinogenic health hazard. A 2011 EPA toxicological review continues to list trichloroethylene as a known carcinogen.

“I am proud and humbled to be recognized by the WaterNow Alliance for leadership in water supply safety and accessibility,” stated Elie.  “To solve this problem in a way unlike most contamination claims, which are litigated with time, money and resources dedicated to pointing fingers, we developed a common‐sense strategy that leveraged local infrastructure and state and federal funding partnerships for the cleanup of the plume, making a critical difference for our community while demonstrating a sustainable water solution that can be applied throughout California.”

The WaterNow Alliance Impact Award has been initiated to recognize and honor public water agency decision makers for leadership focused on accelerating and/or expanding innovative and sustainable water solutions in their communities.  The primary criterion for an Impact Award is the evidence of leadership in supporting one or more sustainable water solutions with meaningful effect at the community or regional level. The award also identifies those who provide leadership in advancing equity in the water space – by helping to make water more affordable, accessible or safer, or provide other benefits for disadvantaged communities.