Prompted by black water flowing from taps in Gardena early this year, the Board of Supervisors voted recently to seek changes in state law that would strengthen Los Angeles County’s authority and oversight of public utility agencies.
Currently, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Resources Control Board (WRCB) Division of Drinking Water is solely responsible for ensuring the safety and quality of large water systems, such as the investor-owned Golden State Water Company (GSWC) that serves Gardena.
While large water systems are required to comply with the directives of the WRCB, they are not mandated to respond to the county’s requests for water testing, customer notification, or annual reports. The county can only sue them after an alleged violation has occurred.
“Several legislative and regulatory changes are needed for the county to address local water quality concerns more nimbly and aggressively,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. His motion, which won unanimous approval from the board, followed recommendations made by the county’s interim chief executive officer, counsel, and interim public health director.
Gardena residents complained of foul-smelling black water flowing from their faucets, showers and toilets in January. The WRCB requested the county Department of Public Health to investigate, which resulted in the discovery of sediment and microorganisms in GSWC’s water mains, the product of years of water treatment and infrequent flushing. The water did not have unsafe levels of E. Coli or coliform, but failed standards for odor and color. Over the last few months, GSWC has taken steps to address water quality concerns, including flushing its water mains more often.
In their report, the county’s interim chief executive officer, counsel, and interim public health director recommended that the WRCP retain full administrative, enforcement and oversight authority over water systems, but that local health officers also be empowered to respond to complaints and conduct investigations.