A city study points to nearby condominium complex septic pits as source of a pool of slimy, green water seeping onto Pacific Coast Highway near Kanan Dume Road.
By Hans Laetz/ Special to The Malibu Times
A dirty little secret is percolating up onto Pacific Coast Highway on Point Dume, where thousands of cars splash daily through water that officials say is seeping out from uphill septic pits.
A groundwater study ordered by the city of Malibu shows the liquid splashed on people and cars to be partly composed of human waste, which an engineer says is likely coming from the Malibu Gardens condominiums.
City engineer Craig George told The Malibu Times that the exact level of contamination found during a city-ordered preliminary test is “proprietary information” that cannot be released to the public. But he said the contaminated seepage is not an imminent danger to passersby.
“Of course, all gutter water is to be avoided,” George said in an interview. “But as for people getting sick from this, that’s not a valid concern.”
Every day, people waiting for buses at Pacific Coast Highway and Kanan Dume Road walk through the splashed water and slime caused by the seepage. Hundreds of bicyclists ride through it every weekend, and nearly 40,000 cars per day drive through the intersection splashing the water into the air.
City officials are pointing to the 58-unit Malibu Gardens complex, which, until a few years ago, was plagued with major septic tanks problems, as the likely source of the seepage. Officials have ordered the Malibu Gardens condominium association to run a second set of tests to see if liquid seeping out is of human origin, and if it originates in the buildings’ toilets.
County health department officials said they have not measured the water for human sewage content, which could transmit many diseases through direct contact or inhalation of aerosols launched into the air by car tires. After inquiries from The Malibu Times, officials at the county’s Environmental Health Department said they would investigate the water and evaluate the health risk. But they set no date for the testing.
The California Department of Transportation says it cannot do anything to force the city or nearby landowners to get the effluent off state Highway 1. Caltrans spokeswoman Jeanne Bonifilio said the surfacing septic water there has been a matter of concern for more than three years. George says he has heard that water has been surfacing there for 10 years.
“We have notified the city of Malibu and they are taking up the matter with a nearby condominium development,” said Caltrans spokesperson Bonifilio in a telephone interview. “We really can’t fix the pavement until the source of the water is eliminated.”
Malibu Gardens Association President John Sanders said the city has ordered his homeowners to pay for a second round of testing, which will include a flush test in which dyes will be placed in the septic pits and then measured as they emerge onto the street. Tests for human-related chemicals, such as caffeine, will also be made on water collected from the highway puddles.
“The city, under threat of a $500 per day fine, is forcing us to run another set of tests to prove that our septic pits are causing the water to flow onto PCH,” he said. “We’ve already invested more than $10,000 and hired a geologist for the first tests, which were inconclusive.”
Sanders said his complex has completed a new state-of-the-art solid sewage disposal system, bought a small nearby plot on Cavallieri Road, and installed auxiliary liquid waste seep pits to keep the liquid waste away from the highway.
The condominiums’ solid wastes are being treated in four aerobic disposal units, which are operating properly, Sanders said. The issue is liquid waste, which is sent to several seep pits for dispersion into the ground, where soils break down the pollutants. Such seepage dispersal pits are used by nearly all Malibu houses.
The bigger spring, on the southbound shoulder directly below the Point Dume Plaza office building, is so large that the state has placed a steel plate over it. A thick layer of green algae and other slime coats the pavement and gutter near this spring.
George said the city is convinced that the office building perched on the bluff 25 feet above this spring is not responsible. The city oversaw construction of new wastewater pits on the far southern boundary, Craig said, an improvement that rules out the office building as a source.
And, he said, water mains in the area have been pressure-tested and ruled out as the source.
Sanders blames neighboring condominiums and a commercial center and gym for adding to the problem, especially the showers at the gym. But accepts that his home and those of his neighbors have a problem.
“It’s going to cost us a fortune,” he said, “but it’s what’s necessary to prove us right or wrong.
“And, if it is our problem, then we’ll see what the city’s recommendation is and then follow it,” he said.