Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials gave about 100 residents a rare peek into how it treats and stores water at the LA Aqueduct Filtration Plant and L.A. reservoir in Sylmar on Saturday, and new projects the utility has in the works.
Water utilities are facing additional regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency in coming years and DWP has responded with some big, and expensive, alterations, and the group saw some of those up close.
"I thought this would be great to get out and go for a walk in a pretty place," said Encino attorney Ellery Sorkin. "I didn't know we were going to get the added benefit of the tour of the treatment plant, so I was really jazzed about that."
Billed as a "Walk the Reservoir," many said they had no idea they'd be able to look at the complex process to turn water from the Owens and Central valleys into potable water. Most DWP facilities have been closed to the public due to security concerns since 9/11, so the access was unusual.
By early 2014, the utility will open a new ultraviolet water treatment facility. Twelve reactors will "zap" the water to eliminate some of the harmful viruses and bacteria found in untreated water, and then chloramine, "a mix of chlorine and ammonia," will be added. This will reduce the amount of chemicals added to the drinking water, including ozone and chlorine levels.
"I like the idea of the UV treatment," said Maritza Artan of Granada Hills, who said her water often has a strong chlorine smell that she hopes might go away when the process changes. "I also like that they're staying on top of new technology and new ways to do things."
The project was begun in 2011 and has a $60 million price tag. A site north of the reservoir will be completed first, to be followed by a second ultraviolet treatment facility to the south of the reservoir. The first stage is still under construction, but officials said it's on-track.
"For a project of this scale, it's been incredibly fast-moving," said Steve Ott, a DWP engineer for water quality and project development. "We need to have it running by March 2014 in order to meet the regulations. It will be tight, but we will make it."
Another change is to the reservoir, which holds the treated water before it is needed elsewhere. It will soon be covered by hundreds of thousands of small, black plastic balls. Similar to those found in a children's ball pit at a fast food restaurant, the so-called "shade balls" will protect water quality and meet additional new EPA regulations, which means that the water will not have to be treated post-storage.
The balls, which will cost $20 million, already cover about one-third of the reservoir and are in use at other DWP storage facilities.