The amazing journey of H20
La Verne’s water comes from near and far.
by Brittnie Van De Car
photography by Candice Salazar
Residents of La Verne rarely give it a second thought. Water is as basic and necessary to life as air. And thanks to an in-city streamlined, yet complicated ongoing purification process, the people of La Verne receive water at a reduced price rate as compared to neighboring cities. Indeed, La Verne is the model for the city of Claremont as it sorts through the pros and cons of taking over its current water provider: the for-profit Golden State Water Company. In contrast, La Verne is primarily in charge of water distribution to its residents and purchases 70 percent of its water via the Three Valleys Water Municipal District (Northern California water held in the Silverlake Reservoir); the remaining 30 percent of residents’ water is ground water, found in underground basins.
And while La Verne hosts two landscape dominating Metropolitan Water District facilities, neither provides water for La Verne city residents. The mission revival style F.E. Weymouth Treatment Plant (700 Moreno Ave.) is one of the largest purification centers in the United States. The plant cleans enough water to fill the Rose Bowl every four hours. Colorado River water is fed to Weymouth from the 77 acre Live Oak Reservoir, located in the city’s northern hills. The processed water goes to Southern California cities to the west. “La Verne doesn’t receive Colorado River water from either Weymouth or Live Oak,” says J.R. Rannells, senior management analyst for the city of La Verne. “However, the city does have a connection for emergency purposes just in case something happens with our current system,” he adds.
Instead, the city relies on 13 reservoirs, some above ground, some below, which hold from between 500,000 gallons to five million gallons each. In addition, La Verne has acquired some 30 wells over the past century from small mutual companies and agricultural interests. Seven of these wells are active in the city today.
Water is cleaned and purified at two treatment facilities, the first being the Amherst groundwater treatment facility, located at Amherst Street and Williams Avenue, removes first the perchlorates and then the nitrates before pumping the cleansed water into an on-site reservoir. A large flat-screen display panel inside a control room graphically shows what’s occurring. Workers are on location seven days a week monitoring the high-tech system’s various gauges, valves and pressure points. The facility also has a 550 foot deep well, which produces a modest 500 gallons a minute.
The Lincoln well, the city’s biggest-producer at about 1,000 gallons a minute, is located at Sixth Street and White Avenue. It was built in 1932 in what was then the city yard. This Lincoln facility serves as the hub for the city’s entire water operations. Besides monitoring and tracking the city’s complete water system, it treats water from two wells, the Lincoln and Mills Track wells. La Verne has exclusive rights to three water basins; however, the basin water is extremely high in nitrates, which is why La Verne must dilute its native water with an imported source.
La Verne’s past citrus industry has issued a lasting legacy to the city’s ample ground water supply. Nitrate fertilizers, used by citrus ranchers for 100 years, now have fully leached into the ground water. The contamination is serious, but not unsurmountable with water dilution. Another local contaminant is perchlorate, most often associated with the production of rocket fuels, fireworks and, yes, fertilizers. But the biggest offender is trichloroethylene, a cleaning solvent. At the 6th and White street facility, the treatment process attempts to strip out the nitrates and volatile organic compounds from the wells. They all are not removed; hence, the need to blend 30 percent of the cleansed local water with 70 percent imported water that traveled down the California Aqueduct from the San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta. After the chlorination process, La Verne’s water goes to the reservoirs to be stored before heading to the labyrinth of pipes that serve homes and businesses. Huge electric pumps move the water from station to station.
The cost of water in La Verne is in the middle of the pricing scale compared to water districts in surrounding cities. Water price is measured in units. One unit is equal to 1,000 gallons. La Verne pays $2.69 for one unit of water. For comparison purposes, La Verne pays $72 a month for 20,000 gallons of water. Golden State Water Company that serves Claremont, charges an average of $120 a month for the same amount. La Verne’s water delivery, like all of Southern California, is controlled and delivered in a precise manner through a complex system. “Water anywhere is the most important resource to life and economic vitality. In Southern California, its limited availability and complex journey, make it even more so,” Rannells says.
Southern California’s water wars
The water you drink has come at a price. California water wars have been occurring for the last century and a half, resulting in a series of battles, compromises and treaties between the city of Los Angeles and those who lived and worked in the Owens Valley, which is located between the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains. The losers in the water wars were the farmers, ranchers and even environmentalists of the Owens Valley. The winner: Southern California, which gained the water needed to support huge population growth.
Alfred Clark, University of La Verne associate vice president for Academic Affairs, is an authority on the San Gabriel watershed and is authoring a book that covers a 500-year segment of watershed history, 1542-2042. “The conflicts started roughly around 1889 when cities around La Verne were founded,” Clark says. He notes how in the 1880s, ruffians armed with guns would disrupt the flow of surface water, underground water and the imported water. In 1889, the service flow of the San Gabriel River was divided among nine different parties; parties that still own the water today. The combination of political conflicts and peaceful collaboration between the ranchers in the Owens Valley and those who sought the water for thirsty Los Angeles are what eventually brought water rights to this region.
By the 1920s, millions of cubic feet of water were diverted from the Owens Valley, causing great difficulty for its agriculture and farming. These difficulties led the upset farmers to try to destroy the Los Angeles aqueduct, just completed in 1913. “Another water conflict at the San Gabriel Watershed was in the 1960s, between water agency users, which were downriver, and the up river narrows users, who had rights to the water,” Clark says. “The lands weren’t fully developed at this time until a fight led to the water division.” People at that time had to import water via the State Water Project (SWP), which arose from a bill passed in the 1960s. The SWP brought water from Northern California, and it had an appointed “water master” who made sure that water was distributed equitably among residents.
Today, the SWP is a water storage and delivery system of treatment plants, reservoirs, aqueducts and power plants. It is the nation’s largest state-built water development transportation system. The SWP is designed, constructed and operated by the California Department of Water Resources, and this provides water for 25 million California residents and 750,000 acres of farmland. The purpose of the SWP is to distribute water to residents of California and to improve water quality.
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