Official Water Report Says Permanent Solution Months Away

Mayor Pro Tem
Marina Khubesrian, M.D.

South Pasadena’s City Council Wednesday night received the official report regarding the recent discovery that some residential drinking water was cloudy, murky and even discolored.

The good news is that there is a permanent solution. The bad news is that solution is months off, probably nearer the end of the year when a modified wellhead treatment system costing more than $2 million is installed, according to the official report presented at the council’s meeting Wednesday night.

“It’s important that this item is on the agenda to provide our residents, especially those 50 or so households affected by recent changes in water delivery causing them to have yellow or brown water, as much information as we can,” Dr. Marina Khubesrian said in an email to the Review prior to council’s meeting Wednesday night. “The Council places a high priority on clean and safe drinking water for all our residents and neighbors. The report is thorough and discusses how we got here with recent state regulations for 1,2,3 -TCP, an industrial pollutant contaminating some of our ground water supply. We will hear from a water chemicals consultant and learn about our options going forward and their costs.  I’m looking forward to an informative report and discussion so that we can all have a better understanding of our options as a community facing this new challenge.” 

South Pasadena Mayor Richard Schneider said the report is important, but he questions the public’s interest in the entire issue.

“The reaction to the water report is still up in the air,” Schneider said. “People just want the problem solved and don’t care too much about the cause.”

Residents have lit up local social media sites and have filed 55 complaints with the city since March about the murky water and the city’s response to the situation.

City officials say the discolored water is safe to drink, and the condition is temporary. However, the official report puts that solution near the end of the year when a new treatment system is installed at the Wilson Reservoir, costing about $2.3 million. Furthermore, the city is planning on spending about $1.3 million in Metropolitan Water District water purchases while the treatment system is being built, according to the staff report.

In July of last year, the California State Water Resources Control Board established more stringent requirements for 1,2,3 – Trichloropropane or 123-TCP, according to the staff report. Historically, TCP has been used as a paint or varnish remover, a cleaning and degreasing agent, and was an impurity in certain pesticides. It is also used as a chemical intermediate in the process of making chemicals, and as an industrial solvent. TCP was banned in the 1990s from use, according to officials. However, over the years TCP traces have found their way into groundwater supplies

Public entities had to comply with the new standards by the end of the first quarter of this year, which is March 30. Tests in South Pasadena during this time-frame indicated the water did not meet the new standards so an interim solution had to be implemented. The new wellhead treatment system would not be ready until year’s end, according to the report.

“Under the new regulations, water source blending is the only allowable interim option,” according to the report. “As such, staff obtained approval for the city to blend water pumped from city wells with MWD supplied water while the wellhead treatment system is being procured and installed.” The blending began in March.

South Pasadena and MWD use different disinfection chemicals, chlorine and chloramine, and the blending has caused a chemical reaction with galvanized pipes, “resulting in discolored water or a rusty appearance.”

City officials say less than one percent of water customers are impacted.

“This has occurred in limited areas of the city where the water supplies are on dead-end streets and on older properties where the use of galvanized pipes is present,” according to the report.

The report also indicates that interim solutions other than flushing and blending MWD water with city groundwater are going to be explored. Neighboring cities, such as Pasadena, Alhambra, Sierra Madre and the Crescenta Valley Water District, have been struggling with the same issues and have offered solutions.

Currently, city officials are flushing the system, field testing chlorine residuals using Pasadena and Sierra Madre as guides, and are adding fire hydrants where the water system has low-flow or dead ends to increase flushing.

The new wellhead system is scheduled to be constructed and installed in December, according to the report.

In the meantime, city officials encouraged residents with water concerns to contact the South Pasadena Public Works Department, Water Division, at (626) 403-7240.