In a $42-million blow to City of Los Angeles efforts to overhaul the antiquated Hyperion sewage treatment plant, the state Water Resources Control Board voted Thursday to revamp its formula for distributing federal Clean Water Act money.
Under the new plan, the city will receive $60.5 million instead of the $102.7 million it would have been eligible for under a formula that has been in use for about 15 years.
The change, meanwhile, represented a major victory for the county's 24 jointly operated sanitation districts. The old formula would have provided the sanitation districts with $3 million this year and nothing in 1988; the new funding plan will give the districts $28 million. Most of the funds will go toward increasing water reclamation efforts at county plants in Cerritos and Whittier, a district spokesman said.
Adopted on a 3-2 vote in Sacramento, the board's plan was viewed as a compromise between the amount sought by Los Angeles and the $44 million the board's staff had recommended. Nevertheless, the action could prompt a city lawsuit to recover the full amount sought for the Hyperion renovation.
Barring that, the Hyperion renovation might need to be financed by the politically unpopular method of increasing sewer charges or through a bond issue, city officials said.
The Hyperion plant in Playa del Rey has been a source of embarrassment to city leaders, including Mayor Tom Bradley. Last year, the city agreed to pay a $625,000 fine, the largest ever assessed against a municipality, for sewage-related pollution of Santa Monica Bay. Last year, the city also agreed in federal court to upgrade the Hyperion plant by 1998 and stop pumping sludge into the bay by the end of this year.
Two weeks ago, Bradley blasted the proposed change in the allocation formula and said at the time that its adoption could lead to a lawsuit. A Bradley spokesman said Thursday that the mayor will reserve comment on the development "until we have an opportunity to get the full facts."
Bradley's office was not represented at the state board's meeting, but a spokesman said, "I'm sure his sentiments were conveyed to the board."
The split board's action involved the allocation of the last $270 million the state will receive in federal Clean Water Act funds. The federal money has been distributed to local governments for sewage treatment since 1972. But after 1988, the federal money will be provided only through a loan program established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In the past, local agencies have become eligible for funding on a priority formula established by the state Water Resources Control Board, board spokeswoman Sandra Salazar said. The highest priority has been given to projects, such as the Hyperion treatment plant, that involved renovation of outdated sewage systems.
But because the grant program is ending, there was sentiment on the state board to spread the remaining money among more agencies.
The staff had proposed a two-year cap of $44 million per municipality. On Thursday, the board's majority modified the recommendation by approving a funding cap of $25 million beginning next year.
But in a partial victory for Los Angeles, the board agreed to award the city $35.5 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year, Salazar said. The board's action followed remarks from city engineer Robert Horii, who urged retention of the old formula.
Joe Haworth, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, said the funds will be used to boost by 25% the amount of sewage that is fully treated so that it becomes reusable water. The amount will go from 150 million gallons a day to 200 million gallons daily.
Eventually, most of that water would be used by area parks and golf courses for watering or for irrigation, he said. Haworth said the increased water reclamation capacity would also reduce the amount of treated sewage that eventually is dumped in the ocean.