Water Tank Wars : San Marino: Two planned reservoirs are strongly opposed by residents. Little notice was given, they say, and the holding sites could be dangerous.


Plans to build two large reservoirs in San Marino--approved without an environmental report--have come under growing attack by residents and city officials who say the concrete holding tanks would create a dangerous nuisance to homes and to San Marino High School.

"They're planning to put 40 million pounds of water over the high school that sits on the Raymond Fault, without an environmental study," said resident Richard Peters, who lives just behind the site for another planned reservoir. "And yet no one knew about it until last month."

The board of the San Gabriel County Water District approved the $10-million project in February. The reservoir near Peters' home would hold 4.2 million gallons; the one in the hills above the high school, 6 million gallons. Both would be 18-foot-tall, concrete-lined tanks--six feet below ground, 12 above.

"This project is unacceptable," San Marino Mayor Bernard E. LeSage said. "If the water district isn't willing to cooperate and modify it, this council is willing to do whatever is legally possible to make it consistent with San Marino's neighborhoods."

Although state law exempts water district projects from city approval, LeSage, a Los Angeles attorney, said the water district doesn't have carte blanche. For example, he said, a water pump generating 55 decibels of noise, planned at the proposed reservoir near Peters' Robin Road home, is legally a nuisance.

"We have the right to confiscate their construction equipment and to shut off the pump if it's a nuisance. We have the right to condemn the surface rights at both sites for parks to force them to bury the reservoirs."

More than 100 San Marino residents have signed a petition opposing the project. Le Sage said many people are upset that the water district notified few residents, published a notice of the project in a newspaper that does not circulate in San Marino and did not commission a report on the project's environmental impacts.

Philip G. Crocker, water district general manager, said the two new reservoirs are needed to meet the volume demanded by firefighters, an expected growth in the number of customers and stringent new earthquake requirements. The district owns the land in San Marino but does not provide water service to the city.

The new reservoir above the high school will replace one about a fourth as large that has been at that location for 66 years; the 4.2-million-gallon reservoir at Longden and Del Mar avenues will replace another that burned down 30 years ago, Crocker said. The two reservoirs will increase current district capacity from 4.2 million gallons to 14 million gallons. The new pumping station will also replace an old one currently in use at the Longden site.

"Physically, we can't change anything on this project," Crocker said. "We need the reservoirs to be at a certain height because we use gravity to pump the water."

The San Gabriel County Water District serves 8,500 customers in San Gabriel, Rosemead and Temple City. Water agencies typically have reservoirs in another city at a higher plane than the customers they serve, to take advantage of gravity. Crocker said the district also has a 3-million-gallon reservoir already in use next to the Longden site.

He dismissed safety concerns and demands for an environmental study as unfounded.

"We already had the facilities doing the same thing at these sites, so we saw no need for an environmental impact report," he said. And the reservoir near the school will be designed to withstand a quake more powerful than the Northridge quake directly beneath it. "It may crack but it shouldn't burst," Crocker said.

The project, which will include a 1.5-mile pipeline along Del Mar Avenue between the sites, will begin this summer and take two years to build, Crocker said.

As to the whether the district failed to inform enough residents, he said that notices of the hearings were sent to at least 75 properties contiguous to the project sites, and that the district held two informational meeting this week in San Marino at the City Council's request. In addition, water officials say, the school board voted Nov. 7 to allow the district the right of way to construct the reservoir above the high school.

Still, many residents express distrust of the district.

"I believe the notification process was a deliberate attempt to avoid dealing with residents," Majorie Newman, who lives near the high school, told the council March 8. She said she is concerned about two years of construction trucks driving up and down usually quiet roadways.

Other neighbors of the Longden site say 55 decibels of noise generated by the proposed pump is unacceptable.

"That's like a huge plane at 800 feet," Kathy Waller said.

The issue will be on the City Council's April 12 agenda. Council members have expressed hopes that the water district board will offer further mitigation such as sound walls, more vegetation, plans for reducing construction traffic and further impact studies of the project. Water officials have declined to make any offers.

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