Faced with little choice but to comply with a Regional Water Quality Control Board-mandated investigation of the septic systems adjacent to Malibu Creek and Lagoon, the City Council Monday reluctantly agreed to perform a study this summer, but not before fighting staff members from the board at almost every turn.
The study, which will cost close to $68,000, will occur over a six-week period this summer and is timed to coincide with a breaching of the lagoon by the state parks department. The Department of Parks and Recreation occasionally breaches the lagoon in order to send some of its excess contaminated water into the ocean. At that time, a firm hired by the city, Woodward and Clyde, and city staff members will collect samples of the water for analysis.
While relations between the city and water board have never been warm, comments by board staff members who attended Monday’s meeting did little to mend fences.
Board staff members Dennis Dickerson and Jim Kuykendall criticized the city staff recommendation for a six-week study — Dickerson and Kuykendall wanted a nine-week study at a cost of $97,000. They also questioned the Warshall report, and said septic systems do not belong in Malibu.
“Every time we get together, the thing I hear coming from you is like the conclusion is already reached,” said Councilman Tom Hasse. “That you just don’t like septic systems and [you’re] going to continue to study and study and study until [you] find evidence that the septic systems are polluting … I don’t think that’s good science, that you reached the conclusion before the study is done.”
Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Van Horn took Dickerson and Kuykendall to task for saying that Malibu is too densely developed for septic systems.
“Other agencies have told you this, and I don’t know if that’s why … we’re guilty until we prove ourselves innocent,” she said. “But, I don’t hear that you’re really being scientific.”
She also pointed out that while Surfrider Beach regularly earns an F from environmental watchdog Heal the Bay, other beaches in Malibu regularly earn As.
“All the rest of Malibu is on a septic system, but you don’t have the [Surfrider Beach] kind of grading,” she said.
Councilwoman Joan House questioned whether the lab analysis would be able to pinpoint whether the fecal bacteria is from human waste or some other animal.
“We have a lot of birds you know … ,” House said. “I’m not getting the reassurance I need for this program.”
Kuykendall told an unconvinced House that the ratios of bacteria would show whether the bacteria is linked to human waste, and therefore septic systems.
Council members were also skeptical of the water board’s demand to sample ocean water from beyond the breakers, and they criticized a letter Dickerson wrote to state Sen. Tom Hayden in which he apparently complained of Malibu’s position on septic systems.
While the council ultimately agreed to perform the study, council members said they wanted some “closure” on their battles with the board over the impact of septic systems.
“My concern is that if nothing is determined by the study … you’ll come back and say, ‘Now we have another study,’ ” said Councilman Harry Barovsky.
After assurances from Kuykendall that he highly regards the firm the city hired to do the study, the council voted 4-1 to begin the investigation.
Mayor Walt Keller, who participated very little in the discussion, voted against the study because he believes the city should not have to pay for it.