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Reservoir Regulations Streamlined : Water use: The DWP will not have to provide environmental impact reports for its filtration or enclosure projects. An influential homeowner group objects.

June 25, 1992|KEN ELLINGWOOD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SILVER LAKE — Over the objections of one of the city's most influential homeowner groups, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday endorsed a plan giving city water officials and a coalition of neighborhood groups more flexibility in negotiating improvements to drinking-water reservoirs.

The council vote withdrew a requirement that all DWP plans to build filtration plants or cover the city's 10 open-air reservoirs must include a formal systemwide environmental impact report, along with separate reports for each reservoir project.

The change allows the Department of Water and Power and homeowner groups to agree to forgo entirely the separate environmental reports on some projects. DWP officials have pledged to conduct complete environmental-impact reports for each reservoir project.

The agreement resulted from a novel mediation effort launched in 1990. The DWP and more than a dozen community groups, which formed the Coalition to Protect Open Reservoirs, have been negotiating proposed reservoir improvements as a way to address widespread opposition to the DWP's plans to build filtration plants for the largest reservoirs and to cover the smaller ones, such as Ivanhoe Reservoir in Silver Lake.

FOR THE RECORD - Editor's note
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 2, 1992 Home Edition Glendale Part J Page 5 Column 3 Zones Desk 3 inches; 93 words Type of Material: Correction
The headline stating that the DWP will no longer have to conduct environmental reports for water improvement projects at its open reservoirs was incorrect. Under state law, the agency could dispense with an environmental report for a project only if it is determined there would be no significant environmental effects. However, as stated in the article, the agency has pledged to conduct environmental reports for all projects. Also, due to an editing error, past lobbying on behalf of a program environmental report was incorrectly attributed to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. The lobbying was by the Coalition to Preserve Open Reservoirs.

The Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns. opposed the agreement, which was hammered out between the DWP and the coalition, saying it would hurt wider efforts to protect the environment.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy also opposed the change, saying it allows the DWP too much leeway.

The requirement for a systemwide environmental report was adopted by the council in 1989 under pressure from the conservancy, whose members considered it necessary to control the DWP.

But, representatives of groups negotiating changes at reservoirs in Silver Lake, Elysian Park and Lake Hollywood said relaxation of the requirement could speed up the process of improving water quality at some sites by not requiring negotiators to wait for environmental reports for other reservoirs.

Lynne Hill, president of the Rowena Water Committee, said the agreement could hasten the reopening of Rowena Reservoir in Los Feliz, which was closed late last year amid concerns that it would not withstand a strong earthquake.

"We didn't want to wait three or four years or hurry along the other reservoirs," Hill said. So far, negotiators have settled on some general criteria for improvements there, including that the site include open water, even if it is a pond built over a covered reservoir, she said.

Proponents of the council action said it reflects the need to come up with reservoir alterations on a one-by-one basis because federal and state clean-water rules affect the reservoirs differently. Those rules, for example, now require more immediate measures to protect open reservoirs in Hollywood, Encino and Bel-Air that are vulnerable to contaminants carried in by runoff.

DWP officials appear to have backed away from earlier plans to cover Ivanhoe Reservoir, the small body at the northern tip of the Silver Lake Reservoir. While the Silver Lake reservoirs have prompted complaints about water quality because of the presence of algae and fly larvae, officials have said there is no health hazard.

These new clean-water rules do not apply to the Silver Lake reservoirs; DWP officials said any improvements, even if they include a filtration plant, are still years away.

Jean Barrett, a director of the Hollywood Knolls Community Club, said the more flexible rules would allow negotiators to tailor individual strategies for each reservoir, rather than follow a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

"It's significant for the progress of the mediation," Barrett said.

But a spokesman for the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns. said the move creates a "loophole" that sets back previous efforts to protect the environment in areas that would be affected by proposed reservoir improvements.

Bennett Kayser, a former president of the federation, said discussions over a proposed filtration plant for Lake Hollywood include a site that falls within a specially regulated scenic area off Mulholland Drive. That area is of special interest to the federation of 62 homeowner groups in the Santa Monica Mountains, a region that also includes two other reservoir complexes.

The federation withdrew from the coalition earlier this month. Some coalition activists argued that since most of the organization's 15 groups are also federation members, the homeowner's group already is represented in the negotiations.

Barrett said in a letter to City Council President John Ferraro that giving the federation or other groups more influence in ongoing mediation could ruin efforts to craft specific strategies for each reservoir and neighborhood. Some members privately described the federation's move as a power grab by a few leaders, not a sign of a wider rift between groups with similar long-term aims.

But Kayser said the federation sought only to be included in the talks about the level of environmental scrutiny before improvement plans are decided. While DWP officials have pledged to conduct full-scale environmental impact reports for each site, Kayser said that that promise may not be enough to govern future officials.

"We're not looking to veto anything and we're not looking to usurp the CPOR's authority," he said. "But it seems better . . . if we are all working together before it becomes another motion before the City Council."

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