An oil and gas wastewater disposal company agreed to change how it handles oilfield produced water at two facilities east of Bakersfield under a settlement reached with three environmental groups, those groups announced Thursday.

Valley Water Management Company, which had disposed of the water using unlined pits and sprinkling it on vegetation for decades, will now use tanks to store the water and use a new treatment method to see if the water can be recycled for other uses, according to a company statement.

The environmental groups, the Association of Irritated Residents, Clean Water Fund and Center for Environmental Health, had sued Valley Water under California’s Proposition 65 safe drinking water law.

The groups heralded the agreement as the first Proposition 65 lawsuit to limit oil and gas wastewater discharge into disposal pits. Valley Water operates 462 oil and gas wastewater pits at 28 facilities, they said.

Valley Water agreed to limit the discharge of chemicals listed under Proposition 65 and make “significant” upgrades at the two facilities, “Race Track Hill” and “Fee 34,” near the Edison Oil Field east of Bakersfield.

“It is imperative for businesses and residents of Kern County to protect the quality of our groundwater for future generations,” said Tom Frantz, a Kern County almond farmer and head of Association of Irritated Residents, in a news release. “We can't let the desire for greater profits today harm our children's quality of life tomorrow.”

In its own statement, Valley Water denied the validity of the allegations made in the lawsuit and did not admit any wrongdoing.

Beyond that, the company said it was excited about the new treatment projects at the Edison facility.

“This water has enormous potential to benefit our County during this historic drought and we are continually exploring available options,” stated Christine Zimmerman, Regulatory Affairs Advisor for Valley Water. 

The Californian wrote about the Race Track Hill facility last September, and how regional water quality officials contended its disposal practices helped create a mound of groundwater pollution that may one day threaten water supplies as far away as Bakersfield. 

Still, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board board members were unconvinced the operation presented an immediate danger and ordered more testing and other work rather than shut it down.

The environmental groups that sued Valley Water said they had to step in because regulators have been slow to shut down polluting facilities.

They did give the board credit for increasing its oversight of disposal pits and said it will be considering “general orders” governing the use of disposal pits Aug. 18 and 19.

Valley Water will also pay $200,000 in penalties under the deal, the organizations said. 

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