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State Water Monitors Back in Business

Times Staff Writer

The Senate unanimously approved and Gov. George Deukmejian on Friday signed legislation providing $3 million to put the state Department of Health Services back in the business of monitoring the purity of California’s drinking water.

Officials said the “urgency” measure, which took effect as soon as the governor signed it, is expected to allow the reopening early next week of 13 field offices throughout the state that work with local utilities to assure safe drinking water supplies. The offices have been closed since Jan. 1 for lack of funds.

The Administration-sponsored legislation by Assemblyman Bill Jones (R-Fresno) will finance the drinking water program for the next six months. The Senate sent it to Deukmejian on a 34-0 vote without debate. The measure already had been approved by the Assembly.

Legislative budget writers last summer provided enough money to finance the program only from July through December. An additional $3 million to fund the next six months was put into a second bill, which failed. The Jones measure approved Friday restores the money for the department.

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Mary Griffin, a Department of Health Services lobbyist who shepherded the bill through the Legislature, said that 150 water program workers temporarily reassigned to other work will return to the 13 field offices and get the program moving again.

“It’s been our goal to have those offices operational next week,” Griffin said. Callers to some of the closed offices--formally called the Public Water Supply Branch--have heard a taped message telling them that the operation has been “discontinued temporarily until funding for the program has been restored by the state Legislature.” In case of emergency, callers were advised to leave a message at the tone.

Some lawmakers have criticized the department, accusing it of dragging its feet in setting standards for about two dozen pollutants. The department contended that the task was highly complex and time-consuming.

Kip Lipper, consultant to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, said the legislation restoring the $3 million followed an agreement on a compromise bill by Committee Chairman Byron D. Sher (D-Palo Alto), Jones, state Health Services Director Kenneth Kizer and local water utilities.

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He said the bill, for the first time, would require the department to consider public health, technical feasibility and costs when it sets minimum standards for safe drinking water.

In addition, Lipper said the bill would require that the public be notified when the contaminants in an area’s water supply exceed safety standards. The bill also would encourage local water agencies to set even tougher public health protection goals than those adopted by the state, he said.

Times staff writer Myron Levin contributed to this story from Los Angeles.


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