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DWP to investigate murky tap water in Watts

File: Water runs from a tap. Some Inland Empire residents have had funny smelling water recently.
File: Water runs from a tap. Some Inland Empire residents have had funny smelling water recently.

In response to a number of community complaints and a request from a Los Angeles city councilman, the Department of Water and Power said Tuesday that it will investigate why murky brown water has been intermittently flowing from taps in and around Watts in recent months.

The DWP insisted the water is safe to drink, but said it will flush the pipes that serve the area to remove a buildup of sediment.

Tim Watkins, head of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, brought bottles of cloudy water to Tuesday's city council meeting. He said he has been collecting bottles of dirty water from residents since January, and that some in the community fear the water is contaminated.

Watts and the surrounding area "[have] been neglected for so long on so many levels by agencies, by officials and so on," Watkins said. "We're calling out for attention to our environmental concerns."

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents the area, said four schools have shut down their water fountains and are providing bottled water to kids. 

DWP Water Operations Manager Marty Adams told the council that a fire hydrant that was broken in February may be the reason for the dirty water, because complaints began right around that time. 

He said the Los Angeles Unified School District notified the water department last week about problems at the four schools.

Noting that the pipes in the Watts area appear "to have a lot of sediment," Adams said DWP will conduct "aggressive flushing" of the pipes.  Service will not be interrupted during the operation over the next two weeks, according to the agency.

The cloudy water came up during a discussion of another failure by the water agency, which Adams said was unrelated to the situation in Watts.

Back in January a chlorine pump at the 99th street well, which services the Watts area, failed for six hours before it was fixed. DWP did not notify residents or officials for three months.

Adams said the pump went out and an alarm sounded at the remote facility that monitors the well but workers missed it initially. The law allows for a four-hour lapse, bit it took the department six hours to fix the pump.

He said a secondary failure occurred when workers failed to notify managers, adding that the DWP did not learn about the problem until a regular monthly audit.

Adams said the water was safe to drink throughout the failure and that his agency is working on improving alarm and notification processes.