Los Angeles water projects to get stimulus boost

The Los Angeles district of the Army Corps of Engineers plans to use its share of federal stimulus dollars to help complete a backlog of projects aimed at improving the local water supply, officials said Wednesday.

The new funding includes $6.5 million for delayed repairs and improvements to the Los Angeles County river system, $5.1 million for water recycling and $17.4 million to finish a dredging project to prevent mud-choked Upper Newport Bay from becoming a meadow.

Nearly $184 million in all has been allocated to the district, which covers 226,000 square miles in Southern California, Arizona, southern Nevada and a small part of Utah. The funding is part of $4.6 billion in allocations to the corps under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which President Obama signed into law in February.

“In many cases the projects that we have on this list are projects that have kind of hung out there for a while without the necessary funds to complete them,” said Col. Thomas Magness, who commands the corps’ L.A. district. “We finally have a chance to complete the projects, put them in the portfolio as 100% and turn over the project.”


District officers estimate that the funding will create or save about 1,472 jobs directly related to the work and 2,558 positions in supporting fields, including companies that provide materials and services to the contractors.

“We are very excited,” said Dave Kiff, assistant city manager for Newport Beach.

Mud flats, fed by sediment that washes into Upper Newport Bay via the San Diego Creek, have been building up in the ecologically important estuary for years, greatly reducing the water level. Eventually, the reserve became so choked with sediment and growth that coyotes and other predators could walk across to what had been small islands, disturbing nests and eating eggs, including those of the endangered least tern. Tons of silt were also spilling over from the upper bay into the lower bay, grounding vessels in the Newport Beach marina.

In October 2005, dredging crews began removing 2.3 million cubic yards of accumulated muck, but funding started running out about halfway into the project, Kiff said.


The corps, the lead agency on the project, was supposed to cover 65% of the estimated $38.5 million cost, with state and local agencies providing the rest. Local authorities funded their $13.5-million share with money raised for coastal protection under Proposition 12 of 2000. Until now, however, Congress had only appropriated $17.5 million of the roughly $25-million federal share.

In the meantime, the corps estimates that the project’s tab has ballooned to more than $50 million, driven in part by rising fuel costs.

Together with some additional local funding, Kiff said, the new federal money should be sufficient to finish dredging by the summer of 2010.

“It’s a little ironic that it took a recession and stimulus package for the government to complete its share,” Kiff said.

The additional $6.5 million for the L.A. County drainage system will allow the corps to perform delayed maintenance and repairs to the channels and dams, clear out vegetation and debris that is inhibiting water flow, remove graffiti and update recreation plans for the area, corps officials said.

“That work is never complete,” Magness said.

The $5.1 million for water recycling will help the West Basin Municipal Water District reduce the region’s dependence on imported water from Northern California and Colorado, said General Manager Richard Nagel. West Basin already delivers 35 million gallons of recycled water from the El Segundo wastewater treatment plant -- water that would otherwise be dumped into the ocean. The extra funding will be used to build new pipelines and a pump station in another step toward doubling capacity by 2020, Nagel said.

Also on the corps’ list are:


* $27.5 million for flood control along the Santa Ana River, part of a $2-billion project that corps officials say is about 90% complete.

* $2.5 million to finish deepening the turning basin at the Port of Long Beach.

* $1.98 million to assess the condition of the San Pedro breakwater and dredge the L.A. River estuary.

* $500,000 for a survey of the Dana Point Harbor breakwater, where officials want to check recent storm damage repairs.