Legacy Park storm water facility put to test


The storm water treatment facility does well during recent heavy rainfall.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

The Legacy Park storm water treatment facility did well during recent heavy rains in Malibu. The city had been dealing with mud that has been collecting in the facility’s storm drain the past couple of years, and was working to pump the mud out before the heavy rains hit.

Malibu Public Works Superintendent Richard Calvin said the treatment facility held up “very well” under the rains, and “everything went according to plan.”

Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, which has been heavily critical of the city for not including a wastewater facility in the Legacy Park plans, agreed.

“I went by there last week, and it all looked like it was running pretty well,” Gold said. “The park is looking good, retaining the water, the plants; it looked like it was running well. I went there thinking there would be heavy erosion in some areas [of the park], but it looks like it held up well.”

The storm water treatment facility is part of the 15-acre Legacy Park located on property formerly known as the Chili Cook-Off site, along Pacific Coast Highway between Webb Way and Cross Creek Road. The park officially opened on Oct. 2, after years of planning and construction, legal battles and $35 million spent. However, the storm water treatment facility has been in operation since 2007.

The facility diverts storm water runoff to a pond in Legacy Park, which is able to store up to 2.6 million gallons, and then is sent to the facility, which can treat 1,400 gallons per minute. The treated water can either be discharged into Malibu Creek or stowed in a storage pond to irrigate the park or be reused in times of drought. Calvin said that none of the water collected during the recent rains was discharged.

The city’s overall goal for Legacy Park is to restore and develop riparian habitats, create an open space for recreation and environmental education, and, with the treatment facility, drastically improve water quality of Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach, which has been continuously cited among the state’s most polluted beaches.

The jury on beach contamination looks to still be out. Heal the Bay’s grade for water quality at Surfrider Beach was an “F” in the wake of the rains for a one-month period ending Dec. 18.

But Malibu Mayor Pro Tem John Sibert, who has worked closely with Public Works during the project’s planning process, said at least the Legacy Park treatment facility is doing its part to improve water quality.

“None of this is simple,” he said. “The problem we’ve got is, in L.A. County alone, we have thirteen and a half million people, and when it rains, that water runs across everybody and it ends up in the ocean. How do you solve that? You do it one piece at a time. We need to make sure we’re not causing the problem.”

Sibert noted that one of the major problems with preventing water contamination from storm water runoff is that the causes for contamination are still not totally grasped by the scientific community. Sibert said that at least the Legacy Park treatment facility would reduce the impact in the runoff areas around central Malibu. He said that scientists had examined a variety of different causes for water contamination, including animal waste.

“[The treatment facility] certainly reduces whatever’s coming from runoff,” he said. “Let’s face it, there are all kinds of critters out there, and none of them are wearing diapers. And that’s true all along the coast.”

An added issue with contamination along Malibu beaches is the perception that it is Malibu’s problem alone. Sibert noted that only a third of a mile of Malibu Creek is under the City of Malibu’s jurisdiction, which is only a small fraction of the length of the creek. Everything that gets washed down the creek outside of Malibu ends up along the city’s beaches, Sibert said.

“The way it works these days, if you’re at the end of the pipe, it’s your fault,” Sibert said. “That’s not necessarily good, but that’s the way the finger-pointing goes.”

The completion of Legacy Park and the treatment facility faced much criticism and legal challenges. Original plans included a wastewater treatment facility, but the city decided that there was not enough land at the site to include it, and decided to only include the storm water facility.

The environmental group Santa Monica Baykeeper slapped the city with a lawsuit in April of 2009 over the project’s environmental impact report, saying it violated state law by failing to meet water quality standards and by failing to adequately treat sewage, or wastewater, generated in the Civic Center area. The Superior Court ruled in favor of the city. The group then appealed that ruling, which has not yet been heard. Baykeeper in July also filed a request to halt construction on the project, which a three-judge appellate court rejected.