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New Faces and New Ideas on Water Boards : Pollution: Five environmentalists elected in November may have different solutions to ground-water problems. A ripple effect may cause changes in other agencies.

December 30, 1990|BERKLEY HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last November, when five environmentalists won elections in three key San Gabriel Valley water districts, Hacienda Heights environmentalist Wil Baca predicted, "you're going to see wholesale changes in January."

During the campaign, the environmentalists advocated a more aggressive approach to remedying the region's ground-water pollution, one of the worst problems of its kind in the West.

Now, as the five winners--three newcomers and the two incumbents--prepare to begin their new terms next month, early signs indicate changes will indeed take place, potentially shaking up water boards from El Monte to Claremont.

A ripple effect also will likely occur on other water agencies where the defeated incumbents, as well as some officials who were not up for reelection, have served in appointed posts, owing to their membership on the key water boards--the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, the Three Valleys Municipal Water District and the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District.

The new environmental influence in those districts--which focus on providing adequate water supplies to their customers--could result in significant changes in the appointments to these other water agencies.

The defeat of Donald F. Clark by Carol Montano for the Azusa seat on the San Gabriel District provides an example of the type of change that is expected.

A longtime water official, Clark was chairman of the San Gabriel district. He also served as president of the newly created water-quality authority that was set up to help deal with severe ground-water pollution that plagues the San Gabriel Valley. In addition, he represented his board on another local water agency, the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster.

His defeat not only opened up the presidency of the San Gabriel district, but created vacancies on the two other important boards.

Even incumbents still in office are threatened with a loss of power as the boards during the next month reorganize, elect new officers and make their appointments to regional water agencies.

Influencing their boards' discussions on new appointments and officers, members of the three San Gabriel water districts say, will be the November victories of the environmentalists, as well as determining how the individual boards decide the water cleanup efforts in their areas should be handled.

Witness the case of Burton E. Jones of the Upper District, where two environmentalists--Marvin Joe Cichy and Anthony Fellow, both of El Monte--defeated incumbents identified as favoring the water industry viewpoint.

A 20-year member of the board and a longtime representative in the Southern California water Establishment, Jones won't be up for reelection for two years. But, because of environmentalists now making up a majority on his board, he faces a potential loss of several powerful positions, including presidency of the Upper District, vice chairmanships on both the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the regional water quality authority, and his membership on the Watermaster board, which oversees water rights and pumping in the San Gabriel Basin.

Jones, of South Pasadena, and others on his board say he may lose several of the key posts because his colleagues don't see him as an environmentalist and won't reappoint him.

"It's very possible," Jones said. "I hope I've lived long enough to understand that's politics. But water has become a highly political thing. Everyone that turns on a faucet is now an expert."

Local water agencies during the last year have grappled with the fact that no single governmental agency has the overall authority to finance and supervise the pollution cleanup. Environmentalists have favored the legislative creation of a regional "super-agency."

But many local water officials have believed this was unnecessary, saying the San Gabriel Valley's new water-quality authority can be given the necessary powers to do the job, along with the Watermaster.

Environmentalists have called for water officials to involve the public more in the decision-making process of alleviating the ground-water problem, estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and to take decades to solve.

Established water officials, who have been criticized for paying more attention to interests of water companies than to consumers, and environmentalists all say they hope for a spirit of compromise to prevail as they go about their tasks in the coming months.

"I'm optimistic," said Robert G. Berlien, who wears two hats as executive officer of both the Upper District and the Watermaster. "But I'll grant you the possibility that (the two factions) can't get along.

"You have the old-time water Establishment in conflict with the new-line environmentalist, public activist groups. Whether they can reach an accord, I don't know. It's not going to be easy."

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