Faced with criticism that Los Angeles city agencies have been buying bottled water at taxpayer expense, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has reiterated that departments cannot provide it on the public's dime.
The action follows an article in The Times on Tuesday reporting that city officials have spent $88,900 in public money in the last two years on bottled water from private firms at the same time the Department of Water and Power spent $1 million to assure residents their city tap water was top quality.
Records indicate that the DWP, which supplies the city's water, spent $31,160 -- the most among 23 city agencies that bought bottled water.
In a memo dated Tuesday but made public by the mayor's office Thursday, Villaraigosa restated city policy on bottled-water purchases.
"City employees who choose to buy bottled water in their office units at their own expense are encouraged to continue to do so," Villaraigosa wrote. "However, bottled water should not be provided at the city's expense."
DWP managers said Thursday that they would abide by any directive, even if it means having to ship DWP water to outlying offices where potable water is not readily available.
"For sure, we want to comply with the mayor's directive," said Robert Rozanski, chief administrative officer for the agency.
The memo is similar to the language in orders by former Mayors James K. Hahn, Richard Riordan and Tom Bradley.
However, Villaraigosa's predecessors gave department managers the opportunity to request permission to buy bottled water. The written request had to include an explanation of the circumstance that justified the request.
Villaraigosa's memo does not provide an exception.
DWP board member Nick Patsaouras, a Villaraigosa appointee, read the memo as an outright ban on using city funds to buy bottled water.
"It closes a loophole on bottled water," he said.
But the mayor's office said Villaraigosa was not altering policy that allows purchase of bottled water under special circumstances.
"The purpose of the memo was to reiterate city policy on bottled water, and nothing more should be read into it," said Janelle Erickson, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
The DWP has begun a review of its use of water bought from Sparkletts and so far found that most of it has been used by employees in remote locations, including the Castaic pumping station. Rozanski said the water available there does not meet government quality standards.
He said a full report would be made to the board.
Patsaouras said Thursday that he asked the department for a breakdown of the cost of producing the slick, colorful brochure that reports on the quality of DWP water and is mailed to all DWP customers.
The notice is required by federal and state laws, but Patsaouras questioned whether it should cost $500,000 annually.
"If it's your own Christmas card at your expense, you can do it in color, but if it's ratepayer money, it better be in black and white," he said.