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Water Officials Expect Project Delays If Rate Hike Reduced : City Council: DWP says that even if a scaled-back fee increase is approved, several L.A. construction jobs could be postponed at least a year.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council’s rejection of a proposed 11% water rate hike will delay for at least a year a series of projects aimed at improving water service to the San Fernando Valley and other parts of Los Angeles, a top executive of the Department of Water and Power said Thursday.

DWP officials, whose rate request was shot down Wednesday, were told by the council to return today with a proposal for an increase of less than 7%.

But even if the revised request is approved in full, there will still be significant delays in several Valley construction projects that depended on the 11% increase, Jim Wickser, the DWP’s assistant general manager for water, said in an interview Thursday.

Included are improvements at the Los Angeles Reservoir in Sylmar to reduce algae growth, and a water pipeline planned for the West Valley as a drought-protection measure. Wickser, however, denied a report that the DWP would have to scale back efforts to clean up ground-water pollution in the Valley.

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Even the 11% rate increase would have plugged only part of a $98-million budget deficit caused by a 30% drop in water sales. With constituents complaining bitterly of being punished with higher rates for conserving water, council members said it was politically impossible for them to go along with the request.

“I understand the council’s in a tough position,” Wickser said. “I’m told . . . council members have gotten more calls on this than anything since Prop. 13,” he said, referring to the sweeping property tax initiative.

“That’s why I’m torn, as a professional manager responsible for the integrity of the system,” Wickser said. “In any infrastructure improvement program, it’s awfully hard to argue how much damage one year does to you. You’re waiting one more year. Probably no big deal.”

But, he asked, “How many times can you wait one more year until you have a total collapse?”

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Projects to be delayed include:

* A $10-million, five-mile pipeline to carry ground water from city wells in North Hollywood to distribution lines west of the San Diego Freeway. Ground water provides about 15% of the city’s supply and could contribute more in a drought. But water from Valley wells now reaches customers on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains and can’t be routed to the Valley. The pipeline would change that, and give Valley residents access to the water during drought periods. Construction, which was to begin next year, will have to be delayed at least a year.

* A $14.5-million project to combat taste and odor problems due to algae growth. Aqueduct water from the Owens Valley and State Water Project is now run through the DWP filtration plant in Sylmar and stored in the Los Angeles Reservoir before being piped to customers. Although filtration makes the water purer and clearer, it also helps the sun penetrate the surface and increase algae blooms, particularly in summer. To clear algae, the DWP plans to filter the water a second time when it leaves the reservoir to be chlorinated. But this will require new pipelines and a pumping station costing about $14.5 million, Wickser said.

Plans called for starting next spring, but Wickser said construction won’t begin before the summer of 1993.

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* The East Valley Water Reclamation Project, which will deliver reclaimed water to the East Valley to replenish ground-water supplies. Plans call for construction of a pipeline to carry up to 45 million gallons of treated water per day from the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Sepulveda Basin to water spreading grounds--shallow sand and gravel basins where water percolates into the earth--in Sunland and Pacoima.

The city has been criticized by state and federal environmental officials for being slow to develop reclaimed water projects.

According to Wickser, engineering work will continue, but groundbreaking, planned for early 1993, will be pushed back at least a year.

* Cement lining of old pipes. With many miles of aging, cast-iron pipes that readily corrode, the department gets plenty of “red water complaints” about rust in the water, Wickser said. By applying a thin cement lining to these pipes, the DWP has been able to arrest corrosion and avoid the cost of replacing the pipe. The department had planned to coat 900,000 feet of pipe this year in various parts of the city, but is doing less than half as much because of the budget squeeze.

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Officials also had planned to spend about $30 million next year lining another 900,000 feet of pipe. But Wickser said next year’s effort will be cut about two-thirds.


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