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Sewers Near Break Point; Bradley Asks Water Curbs

December 10, 1987|KEVIN RODERICK | Times Staff Writer

Mayor Tom Bradley, in a grim acknowledgement that the city's sewers are near the break point, Wednesday ordered emergency limits on water use by nearly all Los Angeles residents and industry and proposed new growth controls that would include nearby cities.

Midday watering of lawns, hosing down of streets and driveways and serving water in Los Angeles restaurants except on request would be banned under the mayor's plan, which is designed to ease demand on the sewer system by reducing the flow of waste water.

The restrictions, some of which were imposed in Los Angeles during the 1977-78 drought, would also forbid the use of fresh water in decorative fountains and require that nearly all buildings in the city be fitted with water conservation devices.

In addition, Bradley's 10-point plan proposes a monthly cap on new construction in Los Angeles--based on capacity in the sewers--and negotiating similar limits with the 30 nearby cities and special districts that use the sewers. Three cities that pump more waste than Los Angeles has approved through the sewers--Santa Monica, Burbank and San Fernando--would be prohibited from allowing any new development, Bradley said.

The emergency measures limiting water use in yards and restaurants require only City Council concurrence, a relatively simple procedure. Most of the other steps will not take effect unless the City Council passes an ordinance, which takes longer.

"It's a bold program. It's an aggressive program, yet it's a prudent program and one I think we can all live with," Bradley said at a news conference with state Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), a vocal critic of the mayor's sewage policies as recently as last week.

In the last year, repeated sewage spills and overflows from the Hyperion treatment plant have brought the wrath of beachgoers on city officials. In addition, Los Angeles is required by a federal court agreement to spend $2.3 billion upgrading the sewer system.

The emergency measures will be needed until the expected 1991 expansion of the Tillman water reclamation plant in Van Nuys, city engineers said. The plant, the newest in the city, is being doubled so it can handle 80 million gallons of sewage a day.

Although Los Angeles residents would be affected most by the controls on water use, it is the limits on new growth that could be the most controversial.

The Los Angeles growth controls would be in the form of a limit on the number of new sewer connection permits that city officials would issue to contractors and developers.

About 440 million gallons of sewage a day is treated in Los Angeles and discharged to the ocean. In recent years, that flow has increased about 10 million gallons a day every year. But city engineers have warned that the sewers might fill up by 1991 if the annual flow increases by more than 7 million gallons a day.

Bradley proposed that two city agencies--the Board of Public Works and Planning Department--calculate how much new building can occur in Los Angeles and still satisfy the engineers. Every month, the Department of Building and Safety would stop issuing new sewer connection permits when the growth quota for the month is reached.

Each year, new construction in Los Angeles would only be allowed to contribute 5 million gallons a day in increased sewage flow, Bradley said. The other 2 million gallons a day would be reserved to serve population increases in areas of the city that are already built up and service the sewage flows from nearby cities.

Los Angeles receives and treats the sewage from about 30 smaller cities and special districts under contracts. Bradley said the city should renegotiate its contracts with most of the independent cities to require that they impose similar controls on growth.

But the cities of Santa Monica, Burbank and San Fernando are exporting more sewage through Los Angeles than they are allowed to under existing contracts, Bradley said. In those cities, Bradley said no additional growth should be allowed until the contracts are met.

In San Fernando, City Administrator Donald E. Penman said the announcement was a "complete surprise" and called the proposal for an all-out moratorium "completely unfair."

San Fernando generates about 1.9 million gallons of sewage a day, about one-half of 1% of the total sewage flow in the system, Penman said. The city is about 800,000 gallons a day over its limit. But Penman said the limit was agreed to in 1950.

"As a small city, we are insignificant when compared to the magnitude of the problem, yet we could be really hurt by this proposal," Penman said.

Burbank Mayor Michael R. Hastings accused Bradley of "grandstanding" and ignoring Burbank's existing efforts to pass a growth-control ordinance.

"When someone comes at you with a gun pointed at your face, it's hard to react realistically. It took almost eight months to bring this ordinance in. I'm glad we had our own vision and didn't count on Mr. Bradley to help us."

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