The San Diego Unified School District is offering to pay $155,000 to wrap up a complaint about its failure to monitor groundwater near an inactive landfill underneath one of its school sites, something it has long argued the county should have been responsible for.

Last year, the Regional Water Quality Control Board complained that the school district neglected to submit regular monitoring reports of the groundwater near Bell Middle School. The site belongs to the school district but was leased to the County of San Diego in the 1960s for a landfill. Bell Middle was built a few years later on the Paradise Hills site; the former landfill lies underneath part of its playground.

A 1997 order from the water quality board required that inactive landfills be monitored to make sure they aren’t harming groundwater. San Diego Unified argued that was up to the county, not them.

Until now, San Diego Unified has done only one reported groundwater test. The 2004 test found decomposing solid waste in one well. That can contaminate water with chromium, iron or other minerals, said Rebecca Stewart, a sanitary engineering associate for the water board.

The dispute over who should monitor the old landfill sparked a lawsuit between the county and the school district that is only winding down now, with the two parties poised to sign an agreement that splits responsibilities for drainage, groundwater and other landfill issues, said Cyndy Day-Wilson, an attorney representing the school district.

Staff for the water board initially sought a $227,000 penalty for the missing reports. The school district countered with the lower offer of $155,000. It also offered to start testing and reporting on the groundwater. The water board will consider the settlement offer at its April 14 meeting.

— EMILY ALPERT

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