DWP to flush water pipes after complaints of cloudy water on LAUSD campuses

- Department of Water and Power pipes that carry water to about 20,000 people in South Los Angeles will be flushed out over the next several weeks, following complaints of cloudy water by officials at some Los Angeles Unified School District campuses.

LAUSD officials said the district learned of the cloudy water issues late last week from principals and plant managers from at least four schools.

Bottled water was distributed Friday at Flournoy Elementary, Compton Avenue Elementary, 96th Street Elementary and Florence Griffith-Joyner Elementary, LAUSD officials said. Bottled water also given out at a fifth
school, Grape Street Elementary, after clouded water was discovered in the nurse's office, officials said.

At Tuesday's Los Angeles City Council meeting, a South Los Angeles activist displayed bottles of brown-colored water, saying they were provided by residents who said the samples came from their taps.

Tim Watkins of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee said residents are talking about installing water filtration systems.

"I think that's an inappropriate response to a problem that should be resolved from a municipal standpoint," Watkins told the council.

DWP Water Operations Manager Marty Adams told the council that LAUSD officials notified them last Thursday about the cloudy water. Adams said DWP officials did not find any cloudiness in the water during a test on Friday, but that cloudy water occurs intermittently.

Additional water tests are planned, with the next one scheduled Wednesday, according to DWP spokeswoman Amanda Parsons.

"We are working on the logistics to begin testing daily at our two area locations in place of the weekly tests," Parsons added.

Despite the unappetizing appearance of the cloudy water, it is safe to drink, Adams told City News Service.

Adams told the council that the "first indication" of problems with cloudy water came in February when a fire hydrant was knocked down, causing high water flows that may have stirred up sediment in the pipe and prompted "quite a few calls," Adams said.

DWP officials are unsure of the exact source of the sediment and will be investigating as they move forward with the pipe-flushing, which is expected to be done over the next month or longer, Adams said.

He also said most of the pipes in South Los Angeles were "re-plumbed" in the 1980s and 1990s and are newer than those in other parts of the city.

But because the pipes do "apparently have a lot of sediment that needs to get out," the DWP will be doing "an aggressive flushing program," he said.

According to Adams, when the city's water pipes were unlined, the utility did regular flushing to remove cloudiness.

South Los Angeles residents will be notified with door hangers before their block is being flushed, because the process will likely lead to cloudy water, Adams said.

South Los Angeles' issues with cloudy water appear to be unrelated to a January chlorine pump malfunction at a water treatment plant that originally prompted Harris-Dawson to request a DWP report to the council.

The pump failure allowed water that had not been fully disinfected to flow into the drinking water supply of the South Los Angeles neighborhoods of Green Meadows and Watts.

The failure occurred at the 99th Street Wells Water Treatment Facility at about 9 p.m. Jan. 15, but an automated alarm wasn't noticed by a plant operator at a remote control site until later, leading to a delay in fixing the problem. The pump failure lasted until 3 the next morning, which meant water that had not been chlorinated was distributed to customers for about six hours.

DWP officials also did not formally notify the public of the malfunction until April 22, and the notification only occurred because the incident was cited as a "technical violation" by the State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Drinking Water. 

The state cited the DWP because repairs must be done within four hours, and it took six hours instead, DWP officials said. 

DWP officials noted the automated alarm went off in the midst of a shift change, and the employee coming on duty failed to notice the alert.

Adams told the council today that DWP management, those who are "up the chain," were not informed of the pump failure, and only discovered it about a month later while conducting a regular audit of water quality.

The problem should have been reported immediately at a morning meeting and sent to higher-ups at DWP, he said. The fact that this did not happen was "not typical and not acceptable," he said.

Adams said based on a water quality test, there was "no actual water quality problem" and the pump failure itself was "an isolated incident in a system as large as ours."

DWP officials said in an April statement that a test of the water "did not meet the standard for groundwater treatment due to the lapse in treatment," while a "routine bacteriological sampling of the affected area before and after the incident showed no detectable bacteria or other water quality concern."

"Things break and fail from time to time," Adams said. "The key is our ability to respond, and this was a response failure on our part." Adams said employees receive many alerts, and they are looking into ways
to make higher-priority alarms more noticeable, such as adding sound, sending texts to plant operators and implementing other "redundancies."

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