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Utility working on chromium 6 removal

City is wary about committing money to water project as it awaits state reimbursement.

September 13, 2010|By Melanie Hicken, melanie.hicken@latimes.com

CITY HALL — Regional water officials have been discussing progress on a Glendale Water & Power chromium 6 removal project, as the utility awaits millions in reimbursement from the state.

Last week, the advisory committee for the $5-million multi-jurisdictional research project met to receive an update on its final phase — facilities testing two methods for stripping the cancer-causing contaminant from the water supply.

Committee members said the long-awaited information would help agencies across the state determine the most cost-effective methods for the contaminant's removal.

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With current funding almost exhausted and only six months of testing left, Bruce Macler, of the Drinking Water Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Unit, urged the utility to apply for additional grants "to make sure this is done right on the next level."

But Peter Kavounas, assistant general manager of Glendale Water & Power, said stalled reimbursements for a $2.5-million grant from the California Department of Water Resources have made the city wary of committing any more money up front.

So far, the city has received only $350,000, the majority of which came only after Kavounas threatened to suspend operations at the facility this summer.

The utility has been paying for the construction and operation of the facilities out of its own reserves.

"Glendale residents should not have to pay for this," Kavounas said. "In difficult financial times, you don't want to have your reserves depleted because the state won't pay."

State water officials have said their hands are tied by the ongoing budget crisis that left all bond funding, including the proceeds promised to Glendale, suspended until recently.

Linda Ng, chief of the safe drinking water office, said in an e-mail that more funding has recently become available from bond sales.

"We are processing claims in the order we receive [them]," she said.

City water contains trace amounts of chromium 6, but is blended with untainted water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides up to 70% of Glendale's water, keeping local tap water well within state and federal safety thresholds.

But the potential of stricter standards from the state and public safety concerns prompted the utility's research project, which is studying advanced methods for removing the contaminant.

Project manager Nicole Blute, of consulting firm Pirnie Inc., said significant progress has been made at the two facilities since testing began in April.

While both methods encountered initial start-up and operational issues, they both have been successful at stripping chromium 6 at very high levels. In the remaining six months, officials will continue testing and reviewing costs, she said.

Meanwhile, Glendale officials say they hope to see additional reimbursements from the state soon.

"Ultimately, a project like this hinges on money," Kavounas said. "It's all about money."

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