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Officials vote to dissolve agency accused of delivering discolored water in Compton

Angel Jennings and Ruben Vives, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Authorities voted Wednesday to dissolve the troubled Sativa Los Angeles County Water District after customers in Compton and Willowbrook complained of foul drinking water.

The unanimous vote by L.A. County's Local Agency Formation Commission, which monitors special districts such as Sativa, kicks off a lengthy process to get rid of a water district that has been accused of delivering smelly brown water, financial mismanagement, nepotism and other wrongdoing.

It is the third time that LAFCO has tried to take over or merge Sativa with a larger water provider. But members said at Wednesday's meeting that they are committed to providing Sativa customers with clean drinking water, which they no longer have faith the district can provide.

"There's a concern about the fact that there have been promises made by the prior board, the general manager and yet it's not getting better," said Commissioner Kathryn Barger, who also serves as a county supervisor.

Sativa delivers drinking water to 1,600 homes. Customers pay a flat rate of $65 a month, which brings in about $1.3 million in revenue a year.

Sativa says it lacks the estimated $10 million to $15 million needed to upgrade the 70-year-old pipes responsible for depositing manganese in drinking water, which can make faucets run brown.

For years, customers noticed that discolored water occasionally poured from their taps. Earlier this year, they said it got worse and complaints of brown or urine-colored water that sometimes smelled of chlorine or rust mounted.

County officials say despite elevated levels of manganese, the water is safe to drink. Still, supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn launched a separate effort Tuesday petitioning the State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday to hand over daily operations of Sativa to the county's Department of Public Works and provide funding.

"For too long, government -- at all levels -- has allowed Sativa to operate without sufficient oversight," Ridley-Thomas said in a statement issued Tuesday. "The county is willing to step up to facilitate the changes that are necessary to promote the public health and well-being of Sativa customers."

The push to dissolve Sativa comes two days after several Sativa customers filed a class-action lawsuit that accuses Sativa of failing to provide quality drinking water, misappropriating taxpayer dollars and causing a financial burden on its low-income customers.

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