There's Little Agreement on Water Cleanup : Pollution: Defeat of super-agency bill leaves environmentalists and officials bickering.


The Legislature's defeat of a bill to create a regional "super-agency" to oversee cleanup of ground-water contamination has left local water officials and environmentalists bickering this week about the best solutions to the San Gabriel Valley's widespread pollution problem.

While environmentalists expressed regret over the failure of the legislation last week in Sacramento, local water officials were divided in their response--reflecting the murky nature of the efforts to clean up of one of the West's most complicated water pollution cases.

"I'm kind of angered," said Anthony Fellow, head of both the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District board and the Main San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority, created last year by local water agencies to assist in remedying water contamination.

Unlike Fellow, however, another top local water agency official, Linn E. Magoffin, said he was pleased with the bill's failure.

Magoffin, head of the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster, which manages pumping rights in the region, lobbied heavily against the bill, fearing it would diminish the watermaster's control. The Water Quality Authority, he said, is working properly and can go a long way toward solving the problem.

Instead of continuing to fight, Magoffin said, "now is the time for everyone to put away their ego trips and political ambitions and start aiming at the real problem--the basin cleanup."

The measure, co-authored by state Sen. Art Torres and Assemblyman Richard Polanco, both Los Angeles Democrats, was easily defeated on the Assembly floor last week. A nearly identical bill, proposed by Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park), was killed in June.

The legislation would have created one agency to oversee and coordinate the efforts of 45 water suppliers in cleaning the underground water supply. It would have been responsible for constructing water treatment facilities.

At present, no single governmental agency has the power to oversee and finance the cleanup of industrial solvents discovered in the water supply in 1979.

It is estimated that the cleanup will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Federal officials in 1984 put the San Gabriel Basin on the Superfund national list of environmental problems that rate top priority.

In recent years, however, the lack of a supervising agency has become increasingly problematic, prompting the creation last year of the Water Quality Authority, and also spurring the legislative proposal.

Proponents of the legislation contended that the Water Quality Authority, though capable of solving some problems, lacks democratic representation. The authority draws its membership from public water agencies as well as the watermaster board, whose members are appointed by public and private water suppliers.

Some local environmentalists and city and water agency officials had pushed for the bill, which Fellow hoped would have created "a true public agency" that essentially would have superseded the 11-member Water Quality Authority.

"In a democracy, a public agency should be a public agency," Fellow said. "Right now, there are members on the (Water Quality Authority) board who aren't accountable to the public."

The Torres-Polanco bill, prompting intense lobbying for and against it, was defeated in the Assembly by 11 votes Tuesday and then fell 14 votes short on reconsideration Friday.

One fallout of the bill's defeat, Fellow said, is that some disgruntled members of his Upper San Gabriel Valley district board are pushing for the district to remove itself from the Water Quality Authority.

Equally upset by the bill's defeat, Maxine Leichter, head of the water quality committee of the Sierra Club's Angeles Chapter, said she was troubled by the attitude of water officials who opposed the legislation.

"They absolutely wanted to protect their power," she said. "It shows clearly they aren't interested in forging a consensus."

But Magoffin--part of a coalition of water company executives, city officials and local water agency members--denied this.

Magoffin insisted that the Water Quality Authority is adequate to implement the cleanup. Magoffin and his allies found support from Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), who worked against the proposal.

Despite this year's defeat, Torres aide Bob Fredenburg said the senator is prepared to try again during the next legislative session. In the short term, Fredenburg said, Torres wants to bring all sides together, including representatives from the state's new environmental agency, Cal-EPA.

"Obviously, we need to bring more people into the discussion," he said.

Hacienda Heights environmentalist Wil Baca said he hopes for more than just a meeting. Baca said he will ask both Tanner and Torres to hold a formal legislative hearing sometime in the next few months to explore "what the problems are and how to resolve them."

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