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Brown Water in Compton And Willowbrook Might Finally Get Fixed

Compton residents surround LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas as he announces the takeover of Sativa Water District. (Photo by Caleigh Wells)
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Dozens of Compton residents and elected officials stood outside Sativa Water District and repeated "It's about time."

Los Angeles County officials announced Thursday that they will take over the district's operations after months of Compton and Willowbrook residents reporting brown, smelly water coming out of their faucets.

That happened after the state passed the California Safe Drinking Water Act last month, which authorized the State Water Resources Control Board to take action when necessary.

"We're here to address the wrongs that have been long in place in this community," said state Sen. Steve Bradford. "It makes no sense that we had to do a piece of legislation. It's not lost on me that affluent communities wouldn't need legislation."

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It's the first time in state history that California has ordered the takeover of a water district. The state appointed the county's Public Works department to step in.

L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the county is up to the task.

"We have one purpose in mind: to right what was wrong and to make sure that the customers of the Sativa Water District get the clean and safe water that they deserve. That's why we're here," Ridley-Thomas said.

Here's how it'll work: the department will start by figuring out what's wrong with the water and the pipes that channel it. Then they'll have to come up with the resources and the infrastructure improvements necessary to fix it. After the district is operating reliably, it'll get handed off to a pre-vetted agency, public or private, which will be in charge of managing it.

The department says it's too early to say how much it will cost, what fixes will be needed or how long it'll take for the brown water to be clear again. But the hope is to pass it off to the new agency within 12-18 months.

Leonardo Cazaraz has lived in Compton for 25 years. On Thursday, he and dozens of other residents came to the conference. He held a sign listing demands for the new management.

Long-time Compton resident. Leonardo Cazaraz carries a list of demands for the new management of Sativa Water District. (Photo by Caleigh Wells)

He was proud that protests from residents helped set this change in motion.

"I'm very happy that we are all here together in solidarity," said Cazaraz, speaking in Spanish with the help of a translator. "We hope and expect that they make good on their promise to help. Because we want to have clean water for our health."

Joyce Kelly calls herself a community activist, and has lived in Compton for 52 years. She doesn't get her water from Sativa, but her friends were reporting smelly clothes and sores on their skin from the brown water coming from their faucets. That was reason enough to stand up and speak in public meetings.

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"These people fought a long, strong, hard, hateful battle for something that sustains life. They wanted equality and justice," she said. "It was brutal."

She says she's confident that county management will fix the problem. But even so, she has advice for the new people coming in:

"Be transparent, for one," she said. "And also work with the people and try to get this system set up as fast as you can. And understand these people need clean drinking water. Clean water, period."

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