State still owes on water project

CITY HALL — Stalled reimbursements for a multi-million dollar chromium 6 removal project could lead Glendale Water & Power officials to suspend the operation, they said.

Because the chromium-stripping facilities have been turned on, levels of the cancer-causing element in water drawn through local wells have edged down, officials said. Still, utility officials say they are considering halting the $5-million multi-jurisdictional facility until the California Department of Water Resources makes good its $2.5-million pledge.

So far the city has received only $50,000.

"To date, they still haven't paid. In the meantime, the city has had to front the money," said Assistant General Manager Peter Kavounas. "We are considering whether we should continue to operate them on the promise we would still get our money."

With utility finances increasingly tight, Kavounas said it didn't seem fair for local ratepayers to bear the financial brunt of the project when it will benefit utilities across the state and even the nation. The multi-jurisdictional project has also received funding from the federal government, foundations and a coalition of industry corporations.

State water officials said they understood the frustration, but that their hands have been tied by the ongoing budget crisis that left all bond funding, including the proceeds promised to Glendale, suspended until recently.

"The bond funding is now at the very beginning because we are in such dire straits with the financial situation," said Linda Ng, chief of the safe drinking water office. "So when we have the money, we can only do the most critical projects."

Glendale could soon see a significant check come through for the tab, Ng said, but it has yet to be confirmed.

"The state is evaluating on a daily basis," she said. "As soon as they release the funding, they will proceed."

Local water contains trace amounts of chromium 6 as a result of underground contamination in the San Fernando industrial corridor. City officials have said there is no public health threat because the water is blended with untainted imports from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

In the latest annual water quality report sent out to customers this week, chromium 6 was the only nagging issue in what would otherwise be clean supply. Hexavalent chromium levels remain well within state and federal safety thresholds, officials said.

"Everything is good," said Dan Askenaizer, senior environmental program specialist and head of the utility's water quality group. "I want folks to know the water is safe to drink, and they should feel comfortable."

The city is benefiting, Kavounas said, by seeing chromium 6 stripped from local supplies in addition to the water blending.

Still, he said utility officials are considering pulling the plug on the testing until state officials reimburse the city for construction of the facilities, which were completed last year.

"The idea is for us to understand how the technology works and how much it costs," Kavounas said. "The results will be used to develop standards for every water utility in the state."

Local state representatives have also pushed the state to release the funds, said Robert Oakes, a spokesman for state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada).

"We remain in support of the request," Oakes said Monday.

The annual water quality report based on thousands of water tests performed annually also indicated higher levels of fluoride, first seen in last year's test results as a result of Glendale being folded into a statewide fluoridation project in late 2007.

State health officials mandated more of the naturally occurring compound that fights tooth decay in all public drinking water supplies in an effort to increase dental health.

The report can be viewed at http://www.glendalewaterandpower.com.

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