Sewer Water Reclamation Plan Comes Under Fire
Environment: Councilman Wachs says DWP failed to adequately inform residents that final product would enter drinking supplies.

By ANNETTE KONDO, Times Staff Writer

 no-middleman water recycling program    
A $55-million plan to convert sewage to drinking water came under fire Monday as critics accused the Department of Water and Power of failing to adequately disclose and explain its impact on Los Angeles' water supply.
     But most speakers at the council committee hearing said the project itself is safe and necessary.
     Councilman Joel Wachs, who requested the hearing on the East Valley Water Reclamation Project, called Monday for a supplemental environmental report that would better explain the project as well as allow more public input.
     Wachs said only 25 people attended two public hearings on the project several years ago because the DWP failed to notify all the affected neighborhoods and failed to explain that the project would produce drinking water rather than water for industrial uses. About 70 people attended Monday's hearing.
     The DWP also didn't fully describe the project when the City Council was asked to approve elements of it in 1994, he said.
     "Never once did I imagine that the project that they had promoted primarily for irrigation and industrial purposes was in fact intended all along to be used for drinking water purposes as well."
  Although the DWP and its general manager, David Freeman, were sharply criticized by Wachs and several residents, many of the more than 20 speakers--including environmentalists and state health experts--strongly backed the reclamation project.
     "We are confident that this is a safe project," said Robert Hulquist, the head of a drinking water program for the state Department of Health Services.
     Hulquist cited a study of a program at the Whittier Narrows water reclamation project near Montebello that has been converting sewage water into drinking water since the 1960s. He said a 1987 advisory panel of scientists studied the project and determined the water was safe.
     Freeman said the East Valley sewage conversion process will take five years. The sewage will be treated at the Donald C. Tillman Plant in Van Nuys and pumped to spreading grounds near Hansen Dam. Then, over five years, the water will seep slowly toward a Tujunga well and pumping station. At the well, the water will be disinfected and tested before distribution.
     The East Valley Reclamation Project, which required a new Balboa pumping station and piping to the spreading grounds, was completed a few months ago and is ready to begin processing water, Freeman said. A three-year demonstration project to treat 10,000 acre-feet of water annually is ready to proceed. Eventually, the reclamation program could treat up to 30,000 acre-feet of water, he said.
     After the hearing, Freeman said he opposes Wachs' idea for a supplemental EIR, calling the 1991 report sufficient. "An EIR is very technical," he said. "It's not the tool to use to inform people. . . . It's not needed."
     Initially, a wide swath of Los Angeles could receive the water. According to DWP officials, those communities include North Hollywood, Studio City, Toluca Lake, downtown Los Angeles, Highland Park, Boyle Heights, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Hancock Park, Playa del Rey and Westchester.
     Eventually, the water could be piped to several other regions of Los Angeles, including Tarzana, Van Nuys, Bel-Air, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.
     But speaker Grace Masuda questioned why the public wasn't clearly told the purpose of the East Valley project. "We have a due process problem here," she said. "How many people from the general public knew about this?"
     Freeman said his agency had given sufficient notice of the project to area residents.
     Ellen Stern Harris, a former board member of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said she was not convinced that the state health department and the regional water board could adequately monitor and enforce health and safety standards of the water.
  "This is properly for use in industrial cooling applications, on freeway landscapes, golf courses and certain crops," said Harris, executive director of the Fund for the Environment.
     Mark Gold, director of Heal the Bay, an environmental group, said the reuse of sewage water is well-established in many areas, and the DWP program will be monitored by rigorous oversight. "We've been supportive of this project for over a decade," he said. "We want it throughout Los Angeles."