De-trashing Malibu

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County Water Quality Control Board imposes trash limits on Malibu Creek watershed.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

How the new trash pollution limits on the Malibu Creek watershed, adopted by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board in May, will affect Malibu is still to be determined, as the parties responsible for achieving compliance cover a range of agencies, from cities along the watershed and Caltrans to the National Park Service.

On May 1, the RWQCB voted to impose a TMDL (total maximum daily load) of zero pollution of water bodies impacted by trash from the watershed.

“Actually, that number is not so unusual,” Heal the Bay spokeswoman Kirsten James said. “The trash TMDLs for both the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek are zero also. But that is what is required to prevent trash from those areas making it into the Bay.”

The Basin Plan Amendment has yet to be vetted by the State Water Resources Control Board, the Office of Administrative Law or the Environmental Protection Agency, but the plan allows eight years to achieve compliance.

Jennifer Voccola, Public Works environmental programs coordinator, said the adoption basically affects water from the Malibu Creek watershed flowing into catch basins, of which several exist around the city.

“A full plan for implementation hasn’t been developed yet,” Voccola said. “We’ll work with area stakeholders to determine the best trash capture devices. They’ll be some in the Civic Center area and at Malibu Lagoon.”

Ultimately, the devices screening out trash could catch particles as small as five millimeters, James of Heal the Bay predicted.

“The city and county agencies must design a full capture device that the L.A. RWQCB approves,” James said. “There will be milestones to meet over eight years. Malibu Creek already has TMDLs specified for nutrients and bacteria because of the chronic problem with septic tanks. It’s a process.”

Even small quantities of trash can kill or maim wildlife that ingest or become entangled in debris. Trash that makes it all the way through the catch basins and flows into the ocean is part of a growing problem that alarms marine scientists.

It is estimated that five million tons of plastic have been dumped into the planet’s oceans and, thanks to ocean currents, makes its way to an area in the Pacific Ocean known as the North Pacific Gyre — a vast, floating vortex of plastic garbage.

The plastic there photodegrades into smaller polymers that are eaten by fish, and which then become part of the human food chain.

Steve Cain, the senior environmental planner for the L.A. RWQCB, confirmed a systematic approach to implementing the Basin Plan Amendment, from both point and non-point sources.

According to a table Cain supplied, responsible jurisdictions have six months to submit a trash monitoring plan, then a year to submit results from the plan’s implementation, another four years to achieve 20 percent reduction of trash from baseline requirements and then another four years to complete installation of full capture systems to achieve 100 percent reduction of trash.

Barbara Cameron, the grants consultant for Malibu, said Legacy Park has a state-of-the-art storm water treatment center, and pointed out that Malibu already has three major trash collection sites in operation at local catch basins since February 2006.

“Malibu didn’t just wait for regulations to come along,” Cameron said. “The city has made every effort in its jurisdiction and has been working to ameliorate the water quality here for some time.”

City Councilwoman Sharon Barovsky agreed.

“We started years ago to get Legacy Park up and running,” she said. “It’s an environmental cleaning machine. When the park is completed, we’ll be able to treat almost 100 percent of storm water problems.”

However, the new trash TMDL limit might affect design plans for Legacy Park.

“First we have to do the science to see how we can implement the new standards,” Barovsky said. “But the community can help right now in getting Legacy Park built by matching funds.”

Councilmember Jefferson Wagner voiced his support for the L.A. RWQCB ruling.

“Malibu is ahead of the curve when it comes to coastal cities working to improve water quality,” he said. “This new TMDL limit will require much greater maintenance of the catch basins, and we have to look at who is responsible for what [is found] all along the watershed.”