Duarte Wants to Try Soda Treatment, Puts Water Plant on Hold

Times Staff Writer

The City Council has voted to temporarily withdraw its support of California-American Water Co.'s long-time efforts to build a $2.5-million filtration plant.

The water company has maintained that a filtration plant is needed to solve the problem of tiny leaks that have plagued up to 1,000 homeowners during the past seven years.

But council members want the company to pursue the possibility that injections of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) into the well water will solve the problem.

A corrosion engineer has concluded that the chemical makeup of the water, rather than defective copper tubing, has caused the leaks, and that the problem can be solved by treating the water with caustic soda. (Caustic soda corrects the corrosiveness of the water and does not alter its tastes, authorities say.)

Although only a small amount of water may leak, the steady drip can cause serious property damage and homeowners have spent at least $300,000 repairing pipes and replumbing their homes as the leaks recur over the years.

Cal-Am is two months into a pilot program that involves injecting caustic soda into the well water delivered to 230 homes.

Engineer Testifies

Donald Reedy, the corrosion engineer who was hired by the city to study the situation, told council members Tuesday that he hopes to know within three months whether the caustic soda will correct the corrosiveness of the water, which has a low alkalinity level and a high level of carbon dioxide.

But Andrew Krueger, district manager for Cal-Am, has maintained for some time that he does not regard the use of caustic soda as a feasible long-range solution. Reedy said the cost of building a plant or several plants that would treat the water citywide could be as high as $1 million. Krueger has said Cal-Am would prefer to build a filtration plant that would allow it to pump water directly from the San Gabriel River.

"If Duarte is withdrawing its support of our application, it will affect our chances (with the Public Utilities Commission) tremendously," Krueger said in an interview on Wednesday. "But we will pursue it because we want to end our total dependence on well water."

Duarte had supported Cal-Am in its initial application to the PUC in 1985 to raise rates enough to finance the project. The PUC denied the increase but Cal-Am intends to resubmit it.

The council's decision Tuesday was a victory for homeowners, whose spokesman, Ron Johnson, asked council members to withdraw support for the filtration plant on the grounds that Cal-Am is stalling in efforts to solve the leak problem.

Told to Determine Costs

The council also directed the city staff to determine how much a citywide caustic soda injection program would cost.

The problem of water leaking through pin-size holes in copper water pipes began in the early 1980s, when eight developers built 2,000 homes using copper pipes in Community Redevelopment Agency project areas in northeast Duarte.

As early as 1982 homeowners began complaining to the city, but it was not until last August, when 200 irate homeowners demanded a solution to the problem, that the city took action.

It hired Reedy to study the situation and filed a complaint with the PUC, which has regulatory power over the water company. That hearing has been delayed until Cal-Am completes its pilot program.

Although there are no official statistics on the number of homeowners affected by the leaks, the number has been estimated at 1,000, based on records kept by a developer who initially paid for repairs.

But Mayor John Hitt has argued that that figure is too high because an informal survey by the homeowners has only turned up 150 residents who have reported the leaks. The survey of 450 homeowners also included 92 who did not respond.

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