Safe-Water Statement Challenged as Misleading

Times Staff Writer

The highly charged issue of whether the city's tap water is safe to drink spilled over into City Hall Wednesday when a coalition of homeowner groups strongly challenged a proposed brochure declaring that the water meets state and federal standards.

Barbara A. Fine, vice president of the coalition, said the declaration is "false and misleading" because it is based on a system that cannot yet monitor the contamination levels in specific areas of the city. Officials said they are working to improve their monitoring capability but nevertheless strongly assured consumers that the water is safe to drink.

The statement, saying that "all water provided by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power meets state and federal water quality standards," was inserted in the draft brochure at the insistence of Councilman Marvin Braude, chairman of the council's Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Over the objections of Fine and others, Braude said the statement was needed to allay fears that consumers might have after seeing the brochure listing various natural and chemical substances that turn up in the water supply.

Braude said that when he first saw the brochure with its lists of substances such as arsenic, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene, "I thought to myself, 'My God, if this goes to everybody in the city, the City Council is going to get a lot of flack'. . . . I suggested we include this phrase that all water provided . . . meets state and federal standards."

But Fine and Patty Prickett, president of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, told the City Council in a letter that Braude's statement is flawed.

"Although mathematically correct much of the time, such a statement unfortunately is not always reflective of the water as delivered at the tap on a daily basis in older parts of the city which are more dependent upon contaminated ground water from the San Fernando Valley Basin," Fine and Prickett wrote.

The objections, leveled by the coalition of nearly 50 homeowner associations, had the desired political result Wednesday of prompting a one-week postponement of the council's consideration of the brochure. Coalition leaders say that over that period they want to push once more for the deletion of the phrase.

While acceding to the postponement, Braude indicated his displeasure over the brouhaha.

"You can argue whether the standards are adequate or inadequate, but they are the best standards anyone has," Braude said.

Depending on where they live, city residents receive water from a variety of different sources ranging from the California Aqueduct that funnels water from the eastern Sierra to underground wells within the city limits. Last spring, the City Council agreed to develop a consumer-oriented brochure that spelled out average bacterial and chemical levels in water used by residents in 12 different areas.

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