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City Seeks Alternative to Encino Reservoir

TIMES STAFF WRITER

City officials said Friday they are seeking approval to take the 3-billion-gallon Encino Reservoir largely out of service rather than invest in expensive upgrades to meet tightened state and federal drinking water standards.

The open reservoir, an amoeba-shaped lake nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, has helped quench the thirst of hillside residents for more than 80 years. But it is prone to contamination from animal waste, algae and runoff draining from nearby hillsides.

“The law pretty much states we can no longer serve water out of this reservoir unless we treat it,” said Raul Banuelos, a project manager for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Testifying at a city Planning Department hearing Wednesday, Banuelos said rather than spend up to $200 million to install a giant water tank and filtration plant--a proposal that roused fierce neighborhood opposition--the city has dramatically diluted the scope of the project and pared the cost to a 10th of the original plan.

The new proposal, representing years of intense negotiations with Encino residents, calls for building a much smaller filtration plant, a chlorine scrubbing system and a new pumping station. The equipment would treat about 6.5 million gallons per day, a fraction of the roughly 50 million gallons that now flow daily from the reservoir, Banuelos said.

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The facility could still be tapped during emergencies such as earthquakes or prolonged droughts, but most of its 100,000 customers would be served by the Los Angeles Reservoir and another filtration plant in Sylmar.

In a striking departure from most land-use controversies, the bureaucrats pushing the plan went to extraordinary lengths to include residents in the decision-making process, even hiring a $150-per-hour mediator to smooth negotiations. Eight years and several project revisions later, most homeowners in the immediate area support the plan.

“We’re as satisfied as we could be about a large project like this that’s going to be built in our backyards,” said Jim Brust, a resident whose property abuts the reservoir. “We would have liked to have had no project, but the DWP was under the gun to make some changes. It became a pretty cooperative effort for the last six or seven years.”

The close contact produced many concessions for neighbors, such as landscaping requirements and even a pledge that construction workers try to carpool to the site to help reduce traffic, said Glenn Barr, an aide to Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who represents the area.

“It was really a rather remarkable process,” Barr said. “I take my hat off to the [DWP] for having involved the community so early and taking their concerns so seriously . . . It built--no pun intended--a reservoir of goodwill.”

The city hopes to start construction at the reservoir by December and complete the project by early 2004, Banuelos said. In a related effort, DWP officials want to scale back water service and build a similar filtration plant at the Stone Canyon reservoir north of Bel-Air.

In a sign of just how much the once-ferocious opposition has faded, city officials explained their proposal to a near-empty room Wednesday. One resident, however, questioned the safety of building so close to the dam that shores up the reservoir. Banuelos said construction would not disturb the dam.

The city Planning Commission is expected to consider the plan in late March.

Alana Knaster, the mediator who helped steer the reservoir plan toward calmer waters, said it is very unusual for a government agency to take such pains to cooperate with residents.

“Citizens just don’t like surprises. When projects get popped on them in the form of a 150-page document, it’s tough,” she said. “But here, people understood the project. They felt comfortable with their representation. It’s a whole different scene.”


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