NewsLocal NewsIn Your NeighborhoodBakersfield


CHEMICAL IN THE WATER: Wasco State Prison misses multiple deadlines to clean water supply

California State Water Resources Control Board issues compliance deadline in May 2018. Six years later, the contaminant is still present.
Posted at 7:10 PM, Jun 18, 2024
  • Video shows Wasco State Prison and water treatment vessels, which would clean out the contaminant.
  • Since May 2018, water in the Wasco State Prison has tested positive for 1, 2, 3- Trichloropropane, a carcinogen, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Two water wells supply more than 5000 people at the Wasco State Prison with drinking water, but since May 2018, testing revealed that water has been contaminated with 1, 2, 3 Trichloropropane.

Water at the prison has been contaminated for almost 6 years, according to the State Water Resources Control Board by 1, 2, 3 TCP.

After discovering the contaminant in the water, the prison issued this drinking water notice to staff and inmates.

Wasco State Prison Drinking Water Notice

“1,2,3 TCP is a byproduct from manufacturing a pesticide,” Eric Miguelino, a research scientist for the State Water Resources Control Board, said.

Miguelino specializes in health risks communications and regulation development and says the contaminant went undetected for 40 years until the pesticide was reformulated in the late 1980s to early 1990s.

“California is an [agriculture] state," he said. "It’s a big [agriculture] state, so this was used very heavily.”

That’s why Miguelino says it’s regulated in California under Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, a government organization that conducts scientific evaluation of risks posed by hazardous substances, set the maximum contaminant level to 0.005 micrograms per liter in 1999 based on cancer risks devised from animal studies.

OEHHA 123-TCP Report

Officials last tested Well One at the beginning of October 2023 and reported 0.006 micrograms per liter with it’s highest reading reported at 0.015 micrograms per liter in July 2022.


Well Two test results show 0.012 micrograms per liter at the beginning of July 2023, but this well peaked in April 2018 with a reading of 0.029 micrograms per liter.


“They usually base it on a couple of numbers, and the first number is usually if there’s a cancer risk," Miguelino said, explaining the process to determine if a substance is a contaminant. "The second one is whether or not there’s something else other than a cancer risk that’s associated with it.”

EPA 123-TCP Technical Fact Sheet

123-TCP Supplemental Information

In a written statement to 23ABC News, Mary Xjimenez with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said,

"The health and safety of all who live and work within our institutions and in our communities is our top priority. The California State Water Resources Control Board requires Wasco State Prison to certify its water distribution system for contaminates through sample testing. The State Water Board recently issued Wasco State Prison a notice on its quarterly testing results for 1,2,3-Trichloropropane. Based on these findings, the Board determined the potable water being supplied to staff and the incarcerated population at Wasco State Prison is safe to drink. All notices pertaining to the water sampling have been posted and are available to the population and staff to keep all water consumers informed of any and all findings within Wasco State Prison’s domestic water supply. Postings can also be viewed at any of the facility program offices."
Mary Xjimenez, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

However, the water board under the EPA reported when consumed in excess, 1, 2, 3 TCP can increase someone’s risk of cancer.

“These risks that would occur would not be what you call acute, which would happen from a short exposure and a rapid onset. It would be a lengthy exposure and over time, and an effect that would occur later on,” Miguelino said.

Adam Forbes, Senior Water Resource Control Engineer with the Division of Drinking Water says Wasco State Prison submitted its first 5-year compliance action plan in 2018 to remediate the issue.

Wasco 2018 Revised Correction Plan

However, according to the water board, compliance with regulations has been a long time coming with multiple failed deadlines.

Forbes says the board issued the system a compliance order for 1,2,3-TCP in May 2018 and mandated a return to compliance deadline of May 25, 2021.

State Water Board 2018 Compliance Order

He says the prison initially submitted a Compliance Action Plan (CAP), requesting five years to return to compliance with completion in July 2023, which the board rejected, saying "the proposed timeline was too long at the time of [submission]."

Their second CAP estimated completion by September 1, 2021, and Forbes said the prison told the board they would rent some granular activated carbon to remove the contaminant in the meantime which the board approved.

Forbes tells 23ABC News in a written statement that "...the prison decided to change the plan again without approval and pursue a permanent solution.”

He told me the prison is in construction for a centralized granular activated carbon treatment to remove 1,2,3-TCP.

Construction began on November 1, 2022, according to Forbes who reviewed their quarterly progress report from October 2023.

Forbes added the prison is expected to complete construction in February 2024.

The contractor has all of the materials and equipment and is out there working daily. All underground work has been completed and they are working on the concrete pad to set the granular activated carbon vessels and then the above ground piping.
Adam Forbes, California State Water Resources Control Board

“1, 2, 3, TCP, what makes it very unique is it doesn’t break down very easily, so it will take years and years and years for it to break down. That’s why removing it is very important,” Rafael Molina, the assistant district manager with California Water Service, said.

I asked CDCR to see the treatment system but have not heard back, so I reached out to Molina to get a look at the equipment like these treatment vessels which may be similar to what Wasco State Prison might use in to clean out the contaminants.

“Inside of these vessels is what we call carbon," he said, showing me the carbon particles. "There are different types of carbon. Some of it comes from charcoal coal. Others come from coconut shells.”

Molina tells me the vessels are about ¾ full of carbon which filters out unwanted substances from their wells, and the facility uses a backwash system to preserve the life of that carbon.

“All we’re doing is taking clean water and running it backward and mixing up the carbon that’s in the vessel, getting the sand out of it, and that prolongs the life of the carbon. [It] lets us use it a little bit longer.”

He says the vessels last between a year to three years depending on how much contamination is in the water, with replacements costing between $30,000 to $70,000.

“Essentially the way the treatment process works is water is forced through these vessels, and then it’s forced to go through all the carbon and the carbon captures any contaminants that may be in the water, so the 1, 2, 3 TCP, sand, and other things that may be present.”

From there, he says they treat the water with chlorine and distribute the water to their customers.

Mary Xjimenez with CDCR confirmed upgrades have been underway, and they expected to complete the changes in June 2024.

After I followed up with Xjimenez to check on the progress, she told me they wouldn’t meet that deadline, but the project is now more than 75% complete.

She names weather impacts and unanticipated field conditions as reasons for the delays.

She adds in an email, “...several inoperable valves have been replaced, filter vessels have been installed, the water treatment plant backwash system has been completed, and the backflow preventer and water line have been installed.”

As for the installation process at the prison, Xjimenez tells me they expect to complete their upgrades in November 2024.

Stay in Touch with Us Anytime, Anywhere: