Lead in soil stalls filling of Lake Merced
Gun club's slugs could contaminate water if level raised
- Charlie Goodyear, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2005
A plan to raise the water level of San Francisco's Lake Merced has been put on hold because of a new study showing a high concentration of lead in the soil along the banks near the Pacific Rod and Gun Club.
The study, which will be released today, finds lead contamination at levels nearly 10 times higher than what was previously found in a 1993 environmental study of the site.
"There's no current risk to public health or animal health,'' said Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which conducted the study. "We are able to control the level at which Lake Merced rises.''
Shooters at the gun club stopped using lead shot by 1994, and in recent years the club has switched to biodegradable targets. During the 1980s, 128 tons of lead was removed from the site, according to the commission's study.
But contamination remains a problem, especially if surface soils at higher elevations are flooded by rising lake waters. The commission had planned to raise the level by 8 to 10 feet over the next five years. The lake was drained in recent years through use of an underground aquifer by golf courses and surrounding cities.
"The whole purpose of this was to be proactive, to get out in front of this and find out if there was a public health threat that we need to address, '' said PUC General Manager Susan Leal. "I think it's a temporary setback in us getting the lake restored to needed levels, and we are still very committed and very focused to raising the lake levels."
Environmentalists fighting to restore the lake were disheartened to hear the results of the study. "There are two major disappointments,'' said Mondy Lariz, Lake Merced project manager for California Trout. "First is the cost to clean it up, and secondly it could potentially delay raising the level of the lake, which we'd hate to see.''
The commission's study concluded that if the lake were to be raised without cleaning contaminated soils, lead as well as arsenic could leach from the ground into the water at levels exceeding drinking water and environmental standards. The hazardous materials could also contaminate soil and clams ingested by waterfowl and fish.
While swimming is prohibited at Lake Merced, the potential contamination also is a problem for the PUC's water contingency plans, which call for using Lake Merced as a source in an emergency. "In a very dire situation, we could use it as a drinking water supply,'' Winnicker said.
An additional concern is the cost of any cleanup. Winnicker said that a project to clean a much larger area of contaminated soil at a gun club in the South Bay had so far cost $20 million.
"If there is a cleanup, we would certainly pursue to have all parties involved pay for it'' he said.
The gun club at Lake Merced would have to be closed during the lead removal. A club official declined to comment Thursday on the commission's study.
E-mail Charlie Goodyear at [email protected].