SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Testing from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has determined that the murky water found at five Los Angeles Unified School District campuses here is safe to drink.
Even so, the DWP will continue flushing out all the pipes in the Watts and Green Meadows areas since colored water is, “not the water we want to serve our customers,” said Marty Adams, the senior assistant general manager for water at the DWP. The process began May 11 and is expected to continue for at least a month.
The issue first arose on April 28, when students and staff discovered discolored water in the restrooms and a nurses office at Compton Avenue, Flournoy, Grape Street, Florence Griffith Joyner and 96th Street elementary schools.
The DWP conducted two rounds of testing, on April 28 and May 10. Test results indicated that the water was adequately chlorinated, and did not pick up on any bacteria. Some school officials, such as those at Grape Street Elementary, distributed bottled water for a few days as a precaution.
Compton Avenue Elementary School turned off its drinking fountains and students were given hand sanitizer to clean their hands rather than use the water coming from restroom faucets.
Residents in the Watts area have also reported discolored water in their homes in recent months. Adams said the cause is undetermined, but could be due to a buildup of sediment in the pipes.
“We’ve slowly been reducing our flushing system for the past 10-15 years,” Adams said. “We lined the pipes with cement, so there is less sediment because the water is no longer touching metal.”
Adams said the drought is another reason the DWP has reduced the practice of flushing. But he said the age of the pipes did not contribute to the murky water, as many in the area are relatively new, as they were replaced in the 1980s and 1990s.
According to Adams, an overturned fire hydrant is one possible source of the water troubles.
“Whenever a hydrant is knocked over, it leads to high flow of water,” he said.
Adams said the pipes in the Watts area are not large in diameter so the rush of water would disrupt particles that would normally not have been dislodged.
The DWP started using a new flushing system May 16 that re-circulates the water, pushing it through the device and re-entering it through the pipe as clean water. The recycling method is more sustainable and may ensure that the DWP can flush the pipes more often in the future.
Although the DWP confirmed the water is safe to drink, U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn, who represents Watts, wrote to the federal Environmental Protection Agency to request testing of the tap water in Watts.
“Out of an abundance of caution, I think testing by the EPA would be prudent to protect the health and safety of the residents of Watts,” Hahn wrote in her letter. She also alluded to an incident in January where residents received untreated well-water and were not notified.
In January, a water treatment pump malfunctioned at the 99th Street Wells Water Treatment Facility, affecting Watts and Green Meadows residents. The DWP did not notify residents of that issue until April.
According to the State Water Resources Control Board, the DWP violated federal law by failing to disclose the malfunction within the next business day, and faces a penalty of up to $1,000 per day for each day the information was omitted.
According to the DWP, the two incidents are not related.
But Watts activist Tim Watkins isn’t sure he can trust the DWP.
Watkins displayed bottles of brown-colored water at a City Council meeting last week, saying they were provided by residents who said the samples came from their taps.
Watkins, who leads the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, said assurances by DWP officials that the water meets safety standards is difficult to accept for residents and utility customers.
“If the water is coming out the wrong color, we shouldn’t be told that it’s OK to drink,” Watkins said.
He added that the DWP “may be doing what it can to address the problem, but I think we’re all wrong if all we care about is clearing DWP’s role in this.”
“We should all be concerned about what’s coming out of the tap, if it’s clear and if it’s actually drinkable,” he said.
It is possible the discolored water could be due to pipes within the homes, in which case the responsibility would be on landlords.
“DWP deserves to defend itself … and I’m not saying it’s their fault,” Watkins said adding that something still needs to be done about the situation.
“We’re kind of stuck in a defense mode when we should be aggressive when we look at what is coming out of people’s taps,” he said.
City News Service contributed to this story.