Gil Borboa, Santa Monica Water Resources Manager, worries the city will turn down tap water in favor of bottled water. “In spite of the elaborate safety and health precautions taken with the City water supply, Santa Monicans still buy bottled water. The choice is between bottled water, which is expensive and neither safer nor healthier, and Santa Monica tap water. When people understand what’s at stake, “tap water will be the choice.”
For anyone who doesn’t like the taste of the water as it comes out of the tap he suggests, “put the tap water into a pitcher and leave it in the refrigerator for an hour. Then drink it and I think you’ll find it’s good.”
Water is a constant theme in the history and identity of Santa Monica. In 1917, Santa Monica faced water shortages and voted to annex to Los Angeles to access the water flowing out of the Owens Valley aqueduct, wrote Stella Zadeh in 1975 for the Outlook.
City Commissioners had set the election as far in advance as possible, hoping to improve water supply before the election and appease the pro–annexationists, Zadeh wrote. They also hoped that nature might deliver rain in time.
In a very Santa Monica footnote Zaleh adds that, “When an annexation leader claimed he had had no water in his home for 82 days, the opposition arranged for the fire department to go to his home and record on camera as the fireman took a 100 foot stream of water from the fire hydrant in front of his house. Films of this were distributed all over town. The annexationists cried foul.”
Fortunately for Santa Monica, Election Day 1917 was rainy, water flowed through the pipes and the vote was 4,555 to 3,479 against annexation.
Three more major elections focused on water. In 1923 Santa Monicans voted more than $1 million in bonds to overhaul the water system. The city used the bond money to build two five million gallon reservoirs at the Arcadia Plant and at Mount Olivette on Franklin Hill, and to buy water-bearing land on Charnock Road in West Los Angeles.
Santa Monicans voted again, in 1948, approving a bond to build two more five million gallon reservoirs. One, a new reservoir at Mount Olivette on Franklin Hill, to replace the previous one and another under the San Vicente median between 24th and 26th streets.
The third vote came in 1958. The City voted 4 to 1 for a $2,700,000 bond to construct a 25 million gallon reservoir at Rivera Country Club under the tennis courts and parking area.
Until 1996 the wells and reservoirs that created the water system worked for Santa Monica. 70% of Santa Monica tap water came from local wells and 30% was purchased from the MWD.
Then in 1966, during a routine test, Staff Scientist Myriam Cardenas, Asst. Manager for Water Production and Treatment, noticed that is the water from the Charnock wells tested positive for MTBE – a gasoline additive that is serious health risk – which, leaching out of underground gasoline tanks.
The Charnock wells were closed down. The City began long and complicated negotiations and legal actions against the oil companies. The State intervened on the side of clean water and the lawsuits were settled in the City’s favor.
Currently 80% of Santa Monica tap water is purchased from the MWD and 20% is from local wells.­The City plans to reverse that ratio and return to relying heavily on well water when the Charnock wells are back on line in 2010.
As everyone knows, California continues to have water shortages, especially in Southern California. California has also seen the degradation of the water supply through pollutants and contaminants.
Santa Monica has made a commitment to keeping storm water, with all its attendant pollutants, out of Santa Monica Bay and a commitment to conserving water as we address the State water shortages.
“We reuse the cleaned water from the SMURF (Santa Monica Urban Runoff Facility) and we diverted outfalls at Montana, Wilshire, Pico Kenter and Ashland to the Hyperion Treatment Plant.
“Because of the shortage of water we are focusing on building green streets to capture and infiltrate urban runoff. Bicknell was first and now Ocean Park Boulevard is being planned,” said Gil Borboa.
Also, the City is investigating possible new reservoir locations because of the new demand for recycled water to be used for landscape irrigation and for non-potable plumbing uses.
Water, water shortages, water conservation, water quality are interwoven with the history of Santa Monica and with our future. Our identity continues to be defined by our care of our precious water.