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Four South L.A. Schools Have Switched To Bottled Water Due To Cloudy Tap Water

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(Photo courtesy of Tim Watkins of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee )
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Four South L.A. elementary schools have had to switch to bottled water after numerous quality complaints, and water pipes serving roughly 20,000 South L.A. residents will have to be flushed out over the next several weeks. The issue first came to light when officials at some Los Angeles Unified School District campuses began to complain of cloudy water coming out of their school taps, according to CBS.

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson told LAist that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power thinks that the cloudy water might be caused by a new disinfectant that the department is using, which could be dredging up more rust from the pipes. They cannot confirm this though, so they will be flushing the entire system in that area, which takes a month. Harris-Dawson's office has asked the LADWP to come back to City Council on June 24 with a definitive answer as to why there has been cloudy water over the last few months.

This is the second major water quality issue to affect South L.A. communities in recent months. Back in January, a filtration malfunction allowed water that wasn't fully disinfected to briefly enter the drinking supply in a number of neighborhoods. The incident occurred on January 15, when a chlorine pump malfunction caused unchlorinated water to flow into Watts and Green Meadows homes for six hours. Residents were, horrifyingly, not notified of the January filtration breach until four months after fact.

A representative from Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson's office told LAist that the two issues appear to be unconnected, despite affecting the same community.

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Councilman Harris-Dawson originally called for a Department of Water and Power report on the January water filtration failure, which was discussed at a City Council meeting Tuesday (the current issues were also discussed at the meeting). Harris-Dawson's office has pressed the LADWP for answers on why it took the department so long to notify residents and the councilman after the January filtration failure.

Tim Watkins, president and CEO of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, told LAist that the recent problems speak to a more general issue of water quality in Watts and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Watkins, who came to the City Council meeting armed with an array of bottles of cloudy, yellow water taken from South L.A. taps, told LAist that people in Watts have complained about water quality issues for years.

Watkins said that he saw a notable uptick in illness at WLCAC in late January and early February following the January pump failure that led to homes received unchlorinated water for about six hours.

Speaking anecdotally about the 230 employees at WLCAC, Watkins told LAist that a number of people were home from work with health issues, along with complaints of gastroenteritis and stomach problems. According to Watkins, people just went to the doctor as usual since they didn't have an explanation, and it wasn't until word of the pump failure spread in early May that they became aware that there had been a violation in the treatment process that might have been responsible for health issues. Councilman Harris-Dawson's office told LAist that they hadn't received any health-related complaints, and LAist has yet to independently verify any link between health issues and the chlorination pump failure on January 15.

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"We understand that these things may happen from time to time but I don't think we ever expect to hear about a problem four or five months later," Watkins said. "It's unacceptable because young mothers and their infants deserve to know immediately if there's a threat to public health."

Harris-Dawson voiced similar complaints, telling LAist that "our main concern was the lack of responsiveness in immediately notifying LADWP customers of the malfunction water treatment system as well as the intermittent water quality issues residents and students are experiencing. I expect LADWP to provide the same level of communication and responsiveness to these issues as they do in other parts of the City."

When asked if he thought the situation would have been handled differently if the water problems arose in a more affluent community like Brentwood or Westwood, Watkins said a single-issue comparison would be impossible because of the myriad other ways in which Watts has historically been underserved.

"Everything in Watts suffers at a greater disparity than practically anywhere else in the city or county," Watkins said, referencing the wrenching 2013 "Health Atlas for the City of Los Angeles" report, which showed a 12-year discrepancy in life expectancy between Watts and Bel-Air residents.