Foul-Smelling Sludge Coming Out of Los Angeles Suburb’s Taps

Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Gardena “water” (photos: ABC Los Angeles)

Residents of Gardena, in Los Angeles County’s South Bay, have been complaining for months about the smelly, blackened liquid coming out of their taps and don’t seem satisfied with the water company’s assurance (pdf) that “it can be unsightly and concerning,” but they should rest assured that it “is safe to drink.”

They didn’t seem that assured at a public meeting last week with the Golden State Water Company (GSWC), when 300 of them showed up, many sporting jars of more-than-suspect-looking water, according to ABC Los Angeles. “When your dog doesn’t want to drink out of the toilet, you know you got a problem,” Tom Christmas said.

Jar contents ranged from dark-colored water to thick, black sludge and residents wanted to know what the public utility was going to do about the problem. Utility general manager Kate Nutting said, “I heard a lot of customers who complained about the quality of their water and I took it hard.”

But she didn’t seem to have anything new to say beyond previous company pronouncements that they will flush out system lines when a problem arises, and replace old water mains as a long-term solution. As an intermediate solution, the utility has also started to use a more “aggressive” maintenance technique called unidirectional flushing, and is scouring the pipelines street by street.

But GSWC warned of a minor inconvenience residents might encounter:

“During the flushing activity, customers may experience fluctuations in water pressure and/or the temporary presence of sediment in the water. The condition is temporary and does not pose a health hazard. Customers are advised not to launder clothes during the flushing process. Golden State Water will provide advance notice to customers in the areas of flushing activities.”

The utility says it is flushing sediments like minerals, iron, manganese and other corrosion byproducts that accumulate in pipes. Although the utility did not provide residents at the meeting with any proof of the water’s safety, Nutting assured the public in a previous written statement that “there are no health risks associated with these materials.”

According to city officials, the problem is getting worse and their power is limited. GSWC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of American States Water Co. and is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

In a memo last month, the city said it had been hearing complaints for three years, but they’ve gone from “occasional” reports of brown water to “numerous” complaints about black water during the last six months. They forward the complaints to the water company and flag state and federal regulators.

Meanwhile, the utility says it “continues to address reports of mild to moderate odor and discoloration in the water serving portions of Gardena.” They are “working diligently to improve water clarity and aesthetics.”  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Gardena Residents Angered by Return of Black Water (by Jory Rand, ABC Los Angeles)

Fed-up Gardena Residents Face Off with Local Water Company over Discolored Water (by Kimberly Cheng, KTLA)

Tap Water in This California City Looks Like Black Sludge (by Jim Dalrymple II, BuzzFeed)

Water Quality Issues and Concerns in Gardena (City of Gardena) (pdf)

A Statement from Golden State Water Company (by Kate Nutting, Southwest General Manager) (pdf)

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