New Water Tank in East L.A.

The real "magic" behind getting safe and sufficient drinking water to our homes and why it matters

By C.J. Salgado
Published on LatinoLA: March 1, 2014

New Water Tank in East L.A.

As February 2014 ends (and March begins) and amidst the heaviest rainfall to hit Los Angeles in some three years, oddly, it's hard to think we're in a record drought. But we are, and so we may worry about the quantity of water because it's all over the news, or because it's all over our freeways for the moment. Usually, we don't give it much thought. However, concerned with water issues in my community, I recently had a chance to see first hand a little of what it really takes to get water to East L.A.

I mean, magically, we open up our tap and out comes the water. But, what's going on at the other end? You see, California Water Service Company (Cal Water) provides the drinking water to their East L.A. service area and has done so since 1928. As it turns out, that "magic" really amounts to no less than professionals, technology, and planning coming together as one for the quantity and quality of our water to be there for us.

Talking numbers, a new water storage tank completed in 2012, will increase emergency water supply to East L.A. by an additional 10 percent. So, 2012 is not that new, you say? Well, consider that an older tank nearby was built in 1959. Costing millions of dollars, these monster structures are not built that often. With a water capacity of almost 3-million gallons, a diameter of over 130 feet, and utilizing an epoxy-based paint similar to what's used on sea-going ships to protect against corrosion, this tank is meant to last many decades. Now that's real quantity.

What sort of perils can befall the tank? Well, besides corrosion from constant contact between steel and water or wear from exposure to the elements, there are other worries for the professionals at Cal Water. Naturally, earthquakes are a real threat in Los Angeles. High up on a hill, we would not want this puppy to fail with such an event, right? Luckily, energy-dissipating technology is built into the tank by, for example, accommodating motion between the tank and the ground due an earthquake.

Here's a lesser-known threat: BB shots from over-eager youths. Yes, these tanks bear the paint-chipping scars of being subjected to target practice over the years. Of course, these tanks literally have tough, outer steel armor plating to protect their precious water inside, but those resulting chips damage the special protective paint on the outside. Really, it's a lot of work to keep everything running well. In fact, Cal Water employs about fifty people locally to make it happen.

As for water quality, that, too, is a way of life to keeping a good water system. Manganese is a substance which has been found in one local groundwater well and which can be a toxin to our brains and nervous system at too high of levels. Cal Water serves East L.A. with a mix of local groundwater and purchased water from the Metropolitan Water District which distributes imported water throughout Southern California.

Consider that in East L.A. excess manganese is being addressed through the proven technology of an optimized "greensand" treatment process to filter out the manganese (and iron). Greensand filtration uses grains of glauconite, substance having special chemical properties to remove manganese from the water. Once the manganese is collected, it is stored and disposed yearly as a hazardous substance.

Should we worry about what's in our water, i.e., water quality? Yes! We drink the water, we cook in it, and we bathe our kids in it. Well, manganese has been a problem, too, in the nearby city of Maywood where the Martin family suffered illnesses possibly attributed to dangerous levels of environmental toxins, including lead and manganese. Like manganese, lead is a heavy metal that can poison our body's neurological system. Often, these metals discolor water.

In fact, USC's Annenberg Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism and California Watch, a group of investigative reporters, commissioned tests in 2011 to measure the Martin family's exposure to dangerous metals and industrial byproducts. The results included unusually high levels of six heavy metals, including manganese, as reported by California Watch.

"Josefina Martin worries constantly about what she thinks are likely causes of her family's illnesses: the air they breathe, the ground beneath their home and, most of all, the gunky black, brown, or yellow water that has intermittently run from their faucets for years." ÔÇô Janet Wilson, Journalist.

So, it may be "magic" at one end of our faucet every time we need water, but at the other end, there's a whole lot to worry about. Luckily we don't have to worry about it often because, usually, professionals like those at Cal Water, do the worrying for us. We do, however, have to recognize how important water is to our everyday lives. Certainly, conserve it given the drought. But also, just as importantly, when it's failing us in quality, quantity, or rates, take note, and speak up! For water is truly your right to life.

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