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Plumb Tired : Water Agencies Have Solutions on Tap for Old Pico Rivera Waterlines

June 08, 1986|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

PICO RIVERA — It's no secret that the city's water system is old.

In fact, some people joke that the only thing older is the city's water table, which was formed thousands of years ago and is the primary source of water for Pico Rivera's 54,000 residents.

But in recent years, the punch line has been anything but funny for residents like Sebastian Vasquez.

"When I water the lawn the pressure drops in half," Vasquez said as he sprinkled his front lawn at the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Lindell Avenue. "And if you want to water and shower at the same time, forget it."

Many waterlines that crisscross this largely Latino city are 60 years old and crumbling. During summer months, particularly on the city's north side, the water pressure in some pipes is so low that running more than one tap at a time is chancy. Worse yet, officials fear that in an emergency, firefighters might be left holding dry hoses.

One Well Serves Hundreds

In north Pico Rivera, for example, only one well with a single pump serves hundreds of residents.

"If we experienced a failure at this pump . . . those people would be cut off, (with) no fire protection, no domestic water supplies," said John Medina, the city's public works director.

Complicating the water picture is the city's rapid growth, which has forced officials to scramble for new water supplies. And even with ample supplies, officials have trouble delivering the water because many pipes are undersized, having been installed half a century ago when the primary users were fruit and vegetable growers.

"Where you once had two houses and a citrus grove," Medina said, "you've now got 50 or 60 homes, and that pipe just isn't big enough to move the water."

To improve pressure as well as fix leaky pipes and ensure adequate supplies, the city's two water agencies are in the midst of multimillion-dollar projects to overhaul their lines and and drill several new wells.

The City Council recently agreed to increase rates by 35% over the next five years to raise $6 million for the city-operated Municipal Water District. By 1991 a domestic ratepayer, on the average, will pay $12.60 more every two months for water service, with the average two-month bill climbing from the current $30 to about $42.60.

Badly Needed Well

A large bulk of the $6 million, Medina said, will be used to drill a badly needed well in north Pico Rivera as well as construct a series of large lines to move water from district wells in the south to neighborhoods in the north.

Meanwhile, the Pico Water District, which is surrounded by

the newer and larger city-run district, has spent almost $3.5 million in recent years on well drilling and laying new lines. About $1.2 million came from state loans and grants, with the balance generated by a rate increase of 22% spread over two years. By the time the full increase takes effect July 1, 1987, the average two-month bill will be up $1.13 or $6.60 a year, according to Hal Maupin, general manager of Pico district.

In both districts, officials say the expenditures will greatly improve service to customers.

But privately, some suggest that the real solution is creating one city water district. It would cut administrative costs as well as streamline maintenance of lines and water distribution in the city.

Said Medina, who oversees the city water company: "It's a sticky political issue, one that others have tried to solve."

Never successfully, however. In the mid-1970s, Pico Rivera moved to consolidate all seven water districts serving the city at the time into one agency. But the city, Medina said, was able only to purchase the six privately held independents at a cost of about $11.6 million, Medina said.

The seventh purveyor, the Pico Water District, is a public agency, created by the county in 1926. So the council needed voter approval before merging it with the others in the newly formed Municipal Water District. But when Pico Water users got wind of the city's plan, they circulated petitions in opposition and even threatened to recall several council members. The city backed down, and a decade later neither the municipal nor the Pico districts are pushing to consolidate.

"Very few cities can operate a water department as efficiently as a water district," said Hal Maupin, general manager of the Pico district, who does not foresee a merger anytime soon. "The reason is simple. We do one thing and one thing only--water."

The Pico district has about 5,363 customers, mostly in the heart of the city. The district is rectangular in shape, bounded by Slauson Avenue, Paramount Boulevard, Beverly and the San Gabriel River, on the east. It encompasses what used to be the town of Pico before it was incorporated as a city with the community of Rivera in January, 1958.

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