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City, Golden State at odds over repair of water main breaks

Two Claremont water mains have been leaking for weeks, and the city is at a stalemate with Golden State Water (GSW) over their repairs.

The ongoing attempt by the city to take over the water system appears to be the defining factor for the leaks remaining unaddressed.

Jim Gingrich, who lives on Tulane Road, has had a water main leaking in front of his property for more than two weeks. The main sits underneath a massive oak tree, and Mr. Gingrich said water officials told him they couldn’t fix the main without damaging the tree.

Mr. Gingrich also said a nearby main break on Tulane Road near Wellesley Drive has been leaking for over a month.

“It’s still leaking—they have not repaired it,” Mr. Gingrich said. “It should be repaired and they’re not doing it.”

Mr. Gingrich’s next-door neighbor, Gerald Goldman, had his tree cut down to repair a leak on his property in 2014.

According to Mr. Gingrich, the trees pre-date the neighborhood, a picturesque mid-century block defined by the massive oak trees that run along the street’s edges.

A similar situation occurred in November 2015, after Michael and Karen Rosenthal reported a water main leak on their block near the corner of Oxford Avenue and 12th Street. According to Mr. Rosenthal, a GSW technician said a main replacement had not occurred due to the city’s ongoing litigation to take over the water system.

City Manager Tony Ramos said the leak on Tulane Road would be fixed, “as soon as possible,” provided GSW takes on the responsibility.

“We’re trying to figure out the best ways to resolve those [ruptures] and to get Golden State Water to fix the leak,” Mr. Ramos said.

Later, he added, “It is the position of Claremont that if there are existing water leaks, it is the responsibility of Golden State Water to repair them.”

Ben Lewis, general manager for GSW’s Foothill District, outlined two options for fixing the water leak. One, he said, is a project to relocate the water main into the middle of the street.

“[The developers] planted the trees right on top of the main,” Mr. Lewis said. “And as they grew, the roots entangled around the main and caused the break.”

Mr. Lewis said the proposal to relocate the main was submitted “about a year ago,” to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), but he has not received approval.

GSW estimates the project would cost $1,587,900, which would be included in customer water rates, regardless of who owns the system, according to Mr. Lewis.

“The challenge that we have is that in the eminent domain process the city is taking, the city has to get involved in the approval process,” Mr. Lewis said.

The second option is to cut down the tree, which Mr. Lewis said GSW does not want to do.

On August 27, 2014, Mr. Goldman wrote to the city of Claremont regarding disappointment at the loss of the established oak tree on his property due to repeated water leaks from a main line beneath the tree’s roots. Mr. Goldman emphasized that a neighbor had also lost their tree.

In its response on October 1, 2014, the city acknowledged the “multiple leaks in recent years” and said city staff had several conversations with Golden State Water Company to move the main line to the street to avoid tree conflicts, driveways and homeowner landscaping. Kathleen Trepa, former director of community services for Claremont, explained that Golden State had initially planned to replace the line in 2014, “However, those plans have since changed.” Ms. Trepa further explained that the city hoped to resolve the matter “soon.”

According to Mr. Goldman, no action was taken by the city of Claremont or Golden State Water to permanently resolve the repeated pipe leaks.

“I know this is an interim period where the city wants to take over the water company. But that’s about two years away,” Mr. Goldman said. “And there are all these leaks, a half a dozen leaks since I sent in that letter. It doesn’t take someone who’s good at math to determine more leaks will be happening.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Lewis sent a statement from Golden State, which reads, in full:

“Because the city has filed a lawsuit to take over ownership of the water system, if Golden State Water is going to make improvements to the system while that lawsuit is pending, the City needs to agree that the improvements are a necessary part of the water system. If the City will not agree, then Golden State will need to go to court to ask the judge to decide whether the improvements are necessary. Golden State believes that the judge should not have to decide this. Golden State believes the improvements are clearly necessary, as do residents who have communicated their support for what is a simple improvement. The City should agree to that plain fact, particularly because they have never offered any justification for why it will not agree.”

Mr. Ramos responded to the statement by reiterating Golden State’s responsibility to fix the leaks, regardless of the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the leak in front of Mr. Gingrich’s home still slowly gushes, the hole covered by plywood boards and flanked on each end by orange construction pylons and cones. As the days go by with no action taken, he is thinking of taking matters into his own hands, possibly filling the open hole on his property with rocks.

“It’s very irresponsible. It shouldn’t be happening,” Mr. Gingrich said. “Our street and the tree are being held hostage.”

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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