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LAGUNA BEACH : New Reservoir Vital, Water Officials Say

Hoping to convince Laguna Beach residents that hilltop homes face a serious fire threat unless an additional water tank is built on a guarded plot of open space, a local water district has scheduled a public meeting Saturday.

“We’re saying we need this reservoir, the people need it, it’s vital,” said Louis Zitnik, vice president of the Laguna Beach County Water District board. “This is a serious thing. We’re stepping on a few toes when we propose going into the greenbelt, but I think safety is paramount.”

So far, Zitnik said, the district has been unable to get city permission to even test the soil at the proposed site, adjacent to Alta Laguna Park in the Top of the World neighborhood. The two-acre knoll is part of the Laguna Greenbelt, a swath of open space that rims the city.

The 600,000-gallon tank that currently serves the area is half-drained by 9 each morning, Zitnik said. A larger reservoir with a capacity of up to 3 million gallons is needed, he said. Without a large “gravity feed” tank on the hilltop, firefighters would quickly run out of water in an electrical failure, district officials said.

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About 1,500 homes in the Top of the World and Temple Hills neighborhoods would be at risk, according to water district general manager Joe Sovella.

Gary Schwager, vice president of the Top of the World Neighborhood Assn., questioned the urgency of building a new water tank. In the past, he said, water officials have said a new reservoir would not be built for up to 10 years.

“If there is a water concern, why is it such a back-burner project?” Schwager asked. “We are as much concerned about the fire hazard as anybody. If there’s an emergency, they’re certainly not acting like there is one.”

What rankles some residents is that the district wants to build the tank on a knoll that was restored and planted with native plants as a mitigation measure when plans for the controversial Alta Laguna Park were approved. The park was dedicated in July.

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The knoll, more than 1,000 feet above sea level, is one of the highest points in the city and is a popular lookout point for hikers.

District officials, however, say their proposal would allow the concrete tank to be built underground and for the land to be replanted so people could still enjoy the view.

Sovella said the district is beginning an environmental review that will include consideration of several locations for the new tank. So far, no other sites have been identified, he said. In addition, the district board “has gone on record that they have the intention of condemning the (knoll) site if necessary,” to build the reservoir, he said.

“What we’re doing is notifying people at this point, way up front, that we have started the study,” he said.

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Saturday’s meeting will be at the district office at 306 3rd St. at 9:30 a.m. District officials will meet with City Council members the following Saturday to discuss the city’s water problems.


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