By Dorany Pineda
COMPTON — After years of enduring dark, dirty and musky tap water, Compton and Willowbrook residents will soon have a water service provider they can count on for clean and fresh tap water, officials said this week.
A vote this week authorized the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works to enter into a funding agreement with the California Water Resources Control Board, a move officials say is good news for residents in Willowbrook and Compton.
“This is a victory for the people,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn who, along with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, filed a motion nominating the Public Works Department as interim administrator. “By putting the L.A. County Department of Public Works in charge, residents will finally have a capable, trustworthy water provider they can count on. There is a lot more work that needs to be done but we are in it for the long haul for the customers of Sativa.”
Given public works’ extensive experience operating 68,000 service connections and serving about 245,000 people in the county, Ridley-Thomas said the department is well qualified for the position.
“Residents of Willowbrook and Compton have had to endure brown water coming out of their taps for years, because of Sativa’s mismanagement,” Ridley-Thomas said. “With [Public Works] in charge, these customers will finally have the competent water service provider they deserve.”
It’s a move that Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, who represents the area in Congress, “wholeheartedly” supports.
“Federal, state and local government must work together to ensure that improvements to the water system are made, that all public funds that went to Sativa are accounted for, and that residents have clean water and are given sufficient information about their service provider,” she said in a press release.
The unanimous vote Oct. 9 by the county Board of Supervisors positions the Public Works Department to move towards having interim authority over the water district, a decision that is made by the state Water Resources Control Board. A few steps are left in the process before Public Works officially takes over the district, said Christina Villacorte, communications deputy for Ridley-Thomas.
The department will be responsible for evaluating the conditions of existing water facilities, identifying any improvements needed to ensure clean and safe drinking water, and making sure that the water quality meets regulatory standards, according to legislation –– entitled the California Safe Drinking Water Act –– signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Sept. 28.
Other legislation signed by the governor allocates $200,000 for the Department of Public Works to manage the water district.
The move comes after widespread complaints from Compton and Willowbrook residents of dark water coming out of their faucets, complaints that ignited a statewide investigation and attempts to eliminate the Sativa district.
In the motion put forward by Ridley-Thomas and Hahn, the statement read: “For many months now, the county of Los Angeles has been intimately involved with ongoing efforts to facilitate short- and long-term strategies to address the insufficient fiscal management and oversight of the Sativa Water District, in response to a series of complaints from the Willowbrook and Compton communities over brown water flowing out of Sativa’s pipes.”
The Sativa Water District, a small company covering one-half of a square mile, maintains two active wells at two plant locations and serves roughly 1,600 homes in Compton and Willowbrook.
Customer complaints of the dirty water eventually led health officials to test the water, which they found had higher than normal levels of manganese but concluded it posed no health risks, county officials said.
The water district has faced issues in meeting its mandate since 2005, Executive Officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission Paul Novak told City News Service in July, when the commission voted to begin dissolving the water district. A review from 2012 noted “management inefficiencies, lack of financial strength and failure to follow state requirements regarding independent audits.”
Karen Lewis, who depends on the Sativa company for water, told the Los Angeles Times that she occasionally has to run all her faucets until the water comes out clear. It takes about an hour, she said, down from seven hours when the manganese problem was at its worst earlier this year.
Should the state officially confirm the DPW as the interim administrator, Public Works Director Mark Pestrella said the agency’s top priority is to gain the community’s trust.