SOUTH LOS ANGELES (CBS2) — The severe drought crisis has residents across California cutting back on their water usage but CBS2 has learned officials have been pumping millions of gallons of fresh water into a South L.A. park touted as a water conservation project.

It’s taken both a toll on the environment and taxpayers. Investigative reporter David Goldstein found the city has poured more than 19 million gallons of fresh water into the South L.A. Wetlands Park.

Located at 55th and Avalon, the park was designed by the city to take storm water from the sewers, treat it and then turn it into a picturesque lake.

The park cost taxpayers more than $26 million, most coming from Proposition O bond money. Prop O allocates money – up to $500 million – to fund projects that prevent or remove pollutants from the region’s waterways and oceans.

When the park first opened, a press release said it could treat 680,000 gallons of stormwater a day. Signs placed around the lake indicate it’s being replenished by the filtration of dirty water.

But Goldstein found the lake’s dirty secret.

Department of Water and Power bills show the L.A. Department of Sanitation poured more than 37,000 gallons of fresh water a day between December 2013 and January 2014. During that 33-day period, around 1.2 million gallons were pumped into the lake – that’s a day’s worth of water for more than 3,400 homes with a family of four, according to the DWP.

The city has used 19,917,744 gallons of fresh water for the wetlands since July 2012 – that’s enough for a day’s worth of water for 56,000 homes for a family of four.

That has reportedly cost taxpayers $70,789.80 in DWP bills.

Park-goer Kaunda Waters didn’t know the park’s dirty secret.

“I thought they were recycling it. So it’s not from the mountains coming down here? So, it’s wasted water then, in other words?” Waters said.

It seems L.A. City Councilmember Joe Buscaino didn’t know about it either.

The Chairman of L.A.’s public works committee touted the park’s water conservation in January when the city received an Envision Platinum Award for the project.

“The South Los Angeles Wetlands Park is a shining example of Proposition O dollars at work and, in this emergency time of drought, finding new and innovative ways to conserve and clean stormwater is more important than ever,” Buscaino said.

L.A. Sanitation Director Enrique Zaldivar says he’s not hiding any dirty secrets.

“Nothing ever mentions the use of fresh water…how come?” Goldstein asked him.

“We always anticipated the need for supplemental water,” said Zaldivar, who refers to the fresh water used as supplemental water, and claims the park is working just as designed.

Early planning reports on the park projected it would only use roughly 2.2 million gallons of fresh water a year, even in drought conditions, and only between May and August. In the past 12 months, CBS2 learned they’ve used more than 12 million gallons of fresh water.

So why did the city initially say that 680,000 gallons of stormwater would be treated there daily?

City officials admit the numbers are 90 percent less, estimating 6,000 to 7,000 gallons of stormwater are treated a day. On some days, the city is actually pumping five times more fresh water just to keep the lake full.

Once the water runs through the system it gets dumped into the storm drain and out to the L.A. River and no city official had any problems with that.

“We’re using supplemental water during the establishment period,” Zaldivar said.

“Look, I hear you. I know the average person sounds like, ‘Wow, it’s fresh water going into a lake.’ But if you don’t put that water in there it’s dirty, it violates federal law,” Garcetti said.

“It’s definitely a waste of fresh water,” according to environmental activist Joyce Dillard. “I think it’s bond fraud — they promised the public something and they didn’t deliver.”

After almost two years of DWP bills the city last month suddenly shut the water off. Officials claim recent rains prompted it and not the CBS2 investigation.

They admit more fresh water will be needed, at least in the early stages, and they can’t say if that will ever end — even in a drought.

Zaldivar told Goldstein, “I cannot tell you now we can make an edict and say stop the use of supplemental water, I cannot tell you that right now.”

Since CBS2 began inquiring into the situation, the city says it will look into using recycled water in the future.

David Goldstein


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