The Water District Bringing Brown Water To Compton And Willowbrook Will Be Shut Down

Samples of water from the Sativa water district. (Josie Huang/LAist)

With contributions from Emily Henderson

A regional planning commission voted unanimously Wednesday to dissolve the Sativa water district. The vote comes after dozens of South L.A. residents spoke before the commissioners about the expense and adverse health effects they've felt from brown water in their neighborhoods.

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who sits on the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), expects the process of finding Sativa's replacement to take six to nine months. In the mean time, the commission is asking L.A. County to take over until they find a new agency to replace Sativa.

But the pipes are another problem, and Hahn says today is just the first step.

"There's about $10 to $15 million dollars of deferred maintenance that the water district has refused to invest in upgrading," she said. "So there are some challenges and problems."

She says she hopes the Department of Public Works will start work on finding those problems and get Compton and Willowbrook cleaner and clearer water.

The move comes after months of complaints by residents about discolored water coming from faucets.

Residents of Compton and Willowbrook say they've had discolored water coming out of their taps for weeks. (Photo by Libby Denkmann/LAist-KPCC via Twitter)

So, why is it hard to dissolve a water district?

Sativa has been under scrutiny in the past, but the district survived despite previous concerns about mismanagement.

Once a water district has been created, it can be hard to get rid of, according to Gregory Pierce from the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA. In Sativa's case, the fact that the district hasn't broken any of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards was an obstacle to closing it — though clearly not a problem this time around.

Another stumbling block to dissolution is that a replacement water provider has to be found. An easy solution can be having a neighboring water system take over but even that can be a challenge when a district has financial troubles, as Sativa does.

"There are state level subsidies to facilitate these sorts of consolidations but in this case the cost of rehabilitating the system is so large that it's hard to see who would want to willingly take that on," Pierce said.

What does this mean for ratepayers in Compton and Willowbrook?

Dissolving Sativa and having a larger water system take over service in the area will mean higher rates. But the incoming agency could spread those necessary rate increases out over a larger number of customers and hit each household less, Pierce said.

Bottom line: to fix the issues with the pipes that are likely to blame for the recent brown water complaints, customers will have to pay more, Pierce added.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that the vote was taken by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. LAist regrets the error.

This article was originally published at 11:30 a.m.


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