After some reluctance, a committee of government officials involved in protecting drinking water for the Glendale area and San Fernando Valley has agreed to let representatives of environmental and citizens groups observe its meetings.
The Interagency Coordinating Committee--with members from local, state and federal agencies concerned about pollution of Valley ground water--decided last week that its meetings should be open to interested groups. A few members of the committee, including officials of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, had argued that visitors would inhibit discussion.
The coordinating committee was formed three years ago to promote exchange of technical information among government agencies involved in such tasks as investigating landfill seepage and tank leaks, and building sewers in areas that lack them. But the group's meetings, usually attended by 25 to 30 government officials, have not been publicized and rarely were attended by the press or public.
The decision to allow visitors was prompted by a request two months ago by Citizens for a Better Environment to send an observer to the September meeting.
The request was denied, but committee officials told the environmental group that they would discuss public participation at the September meeting.
During that discussion some committee members called for opening the meetings and others warned that it would be disruptive.
"To get problems presented and discussed openly, I think it's going to be an inhibiting factor to have scrutiny by Citizens for a Better Environment," said Laurent McReynolds, the DWP's assistant chief engineer for the water system. The environmental group has accused the DWP of failing to deal effectively with the ground-water problem or to adequately inform its customers about contamination.
The debate was continued until last week's meeting, when representatives of several agencies--including the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, the Glendale Public Service Department, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board and the state and county Health Services departments--spoke in favor of letting visitors monitor the meetings.
Coordinating committee Chairman Dale Kile, who in September expressed concern about allowing visitors at the meetings, then declared that the meetings would be open. Kile, water services director for Burbank, said groups wishing to attend would be asked to send a single representative so the panel will not have to abandon its meeting place in a conference room at DWP headquarters downtown. The first open meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 20.
Michael Kent, a research associate with Citizens for a Better Environment, called the decision to admit the public "a step in the right direction."
"I know I'll be going when I'm able to," he said.
The coordinating committee was formed in 1983 in response to contamination of the San Fernando Valley ground-water basin, a huge underground reservoir from which Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale and the Crescenta Valley County Water District draw part of their drinking water. The wells have provided 15% of Los Angeles' domestic water supply and varying amounts to the other cities.
Traces of industrial solvents have been found in many of the wells, with the suspected cancer-causing chemicals trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene (TCE and PCE) being most widespread. The EPA has added four well fields, in Glendale and Burbank and in an area of Los Angeles stretching from North Hollywood to near Griffith Park, to the federal Superfund list of toxic sites in need of cleanup.
The EPA is contracting with DWP to supervise an 18-month investigation of the extent of the pollution and the best cleanup methods.