WANT TO GO?

    What: The public is invited to try a new blend of Lomita water.

    When: 7 p.m. Monday.

    Where: Lomita City Hall, 24300 Narbonne Ave.

    Information: lomita.com/cityhall/.

Come to Lomita's City Council meeting Monday evening and have a cool glass of (mostly) homegrown water.

It's certainly not the usual sort of inducement to get residents more involved in local government.

But the water in question is a blend, with 60 percent coming from the much-maligned local well shut down two years ago because of taste and odor issues, and the rest imported via the Metropolitan Water District.

The city has spent the last two months testing the water from the well, treatment system and above-ground reservoir, which cost more than $13 million to build.

"Flavor panelists," including council members, already have sampled the water.

Now, the goal is to introduce it to the general public at a series of community meetings before the supply comes online in mid-February.

At least that's the goal. The proof will be in the, er, water.

"I was pleasantly surprised," said Councilman Jim Gazely, who last week gave up his mayoral title - which rotates among council members - to Margaret Estrada.

"I took some samples and had residents taste it," he added. "I have a neighbor who works for the city of Torrance Water Department and he said it tasted fine.

"It's clean, it smells good. We just need to get people the opportunity to drink and taste it. We're going to have to change people's perception that the water isn't the same as it was."

Residents rebelled in 2010 when the city first attempted to use water from its revamped and rehabilitated well, which was taken offline in the 1990s because of taste and odor issues.

But residents discovered the water was laden with minerals that caused an unsightly build-up on washed dishes. They blamed the poor water quality for pinhole leaks in pipes and for plugging water heaters. They also found it generally unappetizing.

The result was a public relations debacle for the small city, which issued $7.5 million in bonds to help pay for what was the largest capital works project in municipal history.

Instead of saving money by reducing its reliance on increasingly expensive imported water, angry residents instead got an unusable white elephant that still needed to be paid for with a series of hefty water rate increases over the next several years.

Things came to a head last May at a vitriolic council meeting when residents denounced being forced to drink "pond water."

A chagrined council pledged to find a solution to the embarrassing issue and hired consultants to test the system.

The city also made a number of infrastructure improvements, such as a new pipeline to help with the water pressure, aeration and mixing in the tank. Some officials suspected the tank was improperly designed, exacerbating the water quality issues. The city is considering suing the company that designed the hilltop reservoir.

Those improvements, coupled with the fact that in 2010 the mix of blended water had 80 percent coming from the well rather than today's 60 percent, has significantly alleviated the excessively hard water and other unsavory issues it caused, City Manager Michael Rock said.

"I'm elated, to be honest with you," said Councilman Henry Sanchez, a member of the council's water quality subcommittee that oversaw the blind taste tests.

"I kept a positive attitude that we could fix it and, lo and behold, we're fixing it," he added. "I think everybody will be surprised at how good it tastes."

Council members and the public will be invited to sip the product at the 7 p.m. Monday meeting in City Hall.

Subsequent tasting sessions will be held at city commission meetings and gatherings of service clubs, churches and other community organizations as part of an ongoing outreach program before the blended water is brought back online.

City officials estimate that using blended water at a 60:40 ratio rather than pure MWD water could save the city $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

nick.green@dailybreeze.com

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