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San Diego Sues State Regulators Over Kinder Morgan’s Water Discharges Into Murphy Canyon Creek

San Diego is suing the California Regional Water Quality Board to stop Kinder Morgan Energy from dumping up to 1.2 million gallons of water a day into a nearby creek.

The water is from Kinder Morgan’s cleanup of a gas plume under Qualcomm Stadium. The plume was caused by multiple oil spills in the 1980s and 90s from the Mission Valley Terminal which houses massive tanks north of the stadium.

The city has opposed Kinder Morgan’s water dumping into the Murphy Canyon Creek for years. But the discharges have the blessing of the regional water quality control board.

As part of its cleanup of multiple petroleum spills near Qualcomm in the 1980s and 90s, Kinder Morgan extracts tens of thousands of gallons of water a day to lower the groundwater table. The company then treats the water and discharges it into Murphy Canyon Creek. The creek flows into the San Diego River all the way into the Pacific Ocean. The state fined Kinder Morgan in 2008 for exceeding pollutant limits on those discharges. San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith says regulators are, however, allowing the company to violate rules on how much of the pollutant, called Total Dissolved Solids, gets into the creek.

“The water does not even meet the water board’s own standards," Goldsmith said. "We object to it. The law requires our consent and they’ve ignored us.”

Goldsmith says the city wants Kinder Morgan to properly clean the water and then re-inject it into the tainted aquifer to replenish it and expedite the cleanup. That would enable the water table to rise and allow better visibility of remaining pollution.

“It’s sort of like a dirty dish," Goldsmith said. "If you just rinse it once and call it clean, it’s not clean. You’ve got to re-inject it. That’s what our scientists say. That’s the only way we can do it.”

The regional water quality control board’s executive officer David Gibson says the agency is evaluating the lawsuit but normally doesn't comment on pending lawsuits.

"However, we are confident in the manner in which we have regulated the cleanup now being carried out by Kinder Morgan," Gibson said.

In a statement, Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Emily Mir said the city's lawsuit is ill-advised and without merit. She said regulators have "properly rejected the city's claims based upon science, not politics."

"Now, inexplicably, the city is suing the regional water quality control board, seeking to derail Kinder Morgan's remaining cleanup on the eve of its completion," Mir said.


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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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