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A $6-million source of controversy

Cover for Big Canyon Reservoir is failing, city says in its lawsuit, though who's to blame is unclear, as the contractor, subcontractor are denying responsibility.

January 27, 2012|By Lauren Williams
  • This large cover over the 20-acre Big Canyon Reservoir, whose capacity is nearly 200 million gallons, has not been lasting for the life span it was bought for, the city of Newport Beach is arguing in a lawsuit. The $6-million cover began deteriorating less than five years after its installation and has since required unexpected and expensive repairs, city officials contend.
This large cover over the 20-acre Big Canyon Reservoir,… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

NEWPORT BEACH — At the base of Spyglass Hill, past the mortuary, sits a 20-acre reservoir filled with enough water to supply the city of Newport Beach for seven days.

Atop the basin, which was dug in 1958, rests a large, rubbery black cover. It gives the appearance of an enormous water bed that's dusty with debris left by gathering birds and carried in by sea breezes.

The cover for Big Canyon Reservoir, whose capacity is nearly 200 million gallons, was meant to last 20 years when it was installed in 2004 to protect the water supply from algae, flies and other contaminants.

But the $6-million cover began deteriorating less than five years after its installation and has since required unexpected and expensive repairs, city officials said in interviews and in court papers.

Because of the problems, the city of Newport Beach has sued the cover's makers in Orange County Superior Court for unspecified damages. In response, the polypropylene tarp's contractor and a subcontractor contend that they are not responsible for any flaws and that they need to review the city's claims before determining responsibility.

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The city went to extraordinary lengths to be sure that all parties knew the city's expectations for the cover — including the 20-year life span — and that at least one of the defendants is responsible, said David A. Robinson, Newport's outside counsel on the case.

"The bottom line is the cover's failing — there doesn't seem to be any question the cover's failing," Robinson said. "... The city paid a lot of money for that thing. It's supposed to protect the citizens for 20 years. That's not happening."

Both parties, he said, are denying responsibility.

"It's clear that it's going to get fixed, and it's clear that one or more of these defendants will have to fix it," Robinson said.

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Reservoir, tarp history

Since the reservoir was built, the city has strived to maintain its high water quality, at one point even using an air cannon specifically made to deter avian pests intent on making the then-open-air reservoir their watering hole. The cannon wasn't popular with area residents and was removed.

Piano strings arched over the reservoir in the early 1980s, although the strings' bird-deterring factor was never clear. Some speculated it was the sounds made by the strings in the wind, because as soon as birds approached the reservoir, they would turn tail.

After the turn of the century, city officials began seeking a better solution.

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