Golden State blasts La Verne’s water quality record, citing lead and E. coli contamination

By Liset Márquez, originally posted on August 11, 2016


LOS ANGELES >> Claremont’s plan to have to have the city of La Verne operate its water system is half-baked and fraught with risk. That’s the argument Golden State Water Co.’s attorney, George Soneff, made Wednesday during closing statements in Claremont’s case to take over the water utility property owned by Golden State.

The city wants neighboring La Verne — which operates its own water system — to serve Claremont residents and was willing to file an eminent domain lawsuit, the first of its kind in the state, to get its way.

In court Wednesday, Soneff alleged La Verne’s operations have exposed its water users in the last five years to lead and E. coli contamination, the latter resulting from exposure to fecal matter.

“La Verne is a drastically inferior operator of a water system compared to Golden State, and it is an inferior steward of its own water system,” he said.

The five-week trial’s evidence featured 270 exhibits and testimony from 22 witnesses, including Golden State’s Denise Kruger, who produced evidence that showed that in 2009, La Verne had a sample reading of 15 parts per billion for lead. Another sampling in 2012 tested at 28 parts per billion.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s rules and California regulations set a maximum of 15 parts per billion.

In addition, in 2011, a case of E. coli contamination prompted a warning for some La Verne customers to boil their water before consumption while officials worked to resolve the problem. A representative from the State Water Resources Control Board confirmed the 2011 violation.

Soneff called La Verne’s record disgraceful and claimed the city never properly notified its customers of the issues. He added these types of violations have never been recorded at Golden State.

“I don’t know how (Claremont) can justify saying we’re going to have the city of La Verne, with its record, become the steward of our water system,” he said.

After Wednesday arguments, Claremont Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor said the lead contamination was not citywide but occurred in sample readings of homes.

It is typical for La Verne to have residents fill bottles of water from their home to test quality, Tudor said. For two years, there were cases in which the level of lead in the samples violated the California Department of Public Health’s maximum of 15 parts per billion.

“It’s tested on the user’s faucet,” he said. “It’s a function of certain older types of pipes.”

La Verne took steps to change the chemical composition of the water to ensure that the lead wasn’t extracted from the pipes, Tudor said.

La Verne officials have been working with the state to correct the issue, Tudor said, and on June 14 were cleared to return to a three-year testing schedule instead of the yearly tests required by earlier test results.

For more than two hours in court, attorneys for Golden State built their case to explain why it is unnecessary for Claremont to take over the system.

For 87 years, Golden State has demonstrated its stewardship of the local ground water resources has not just been adequate, it has been exemplary, Soneff said.

“All that happens because they run an outstanding, professional water utility. If the city had any evidence that Golden State failed Claremont in any way — with regard to providing safe and reliable water service — this was the trial. This was the time for the city to bring it in here, and it wasn’t presented,” he said.

Soneff said all Claremont intends to do is merely to have La Verne step into Golden State’s shoes and operate the system.

During the first part of their closing arguments Wednesday, attorneys for Claremont outlined the benefits of acquiring the water system: Local control would require a public and transparent rate-setting process, as well as improving conservation goals.

Golden State doesn’t function with transparency, said John H. Holloway with the firm Best Best & Krieger, citing how the utility didn’t consult the city while devising its master plan for the system — a process the city didn’t know about until it filed the lawsuit.

As of now, Golden State operates a “one-size-fits-all” water system, Holloway said, with rates that are among the highest in the region. He pointed out how Claremont, Apple Valley and Barstow are part of the same region and are under the same rate-setting process despite having different water needs and populations.

Attorneys for Claremont will continue their portion of closing arguments Thursday morning.

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