Water board imposes strict regulation of watershed pollutants

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Wastewater treatment systems, horse stables and agricultural runoff might be targeted in cleanup effort of local watershed.

By Tracy Domingo/Special to The Malibu Times

A new regulation by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board that calls for efforts to clean up local waters within a specific amount of time would put Malibu landowners and residents under pressure to upgrade septic systems.

The edict, recently passed by the board, regulates limits on fecal bacteria levels for the Malibu Creek Watershed. The water quality in the watershed has been known to be very poor and is said to largely contribute to the pollution problem in Malibu Creek and Lagoon and Surfrider State Beach, infamous for being the most polluted beach in the Santa Monica Bay.

The limits, called total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), will dictate how much pollutants will be allowed within the watershed at any given time. The regulation states that within three to six years during the dry season of April through October, the watershed must meet water quality standards for California for fecal bacteria 100 percent of the time. Additionally, within 10 to 18 years during the wet season that occurs November through March, the standards must be met each day with the exception of only three days.

The passing of the regulation marks a big change in the way that pollution is usually overseen. Heal the Bay Executive Director Dr. Mark Gold said this is the first time within Los Angeles County and Malibu that nonpoint sources of pollution will be regulated by the state.

“The key thing of this is that these nonpoint sources like onsite wastewater treatment systems, horse stables, and agriculture run-offs are not supposed to be contributing to the pollution problem during the wet or dry season,” Gold said. “It is a huge change, in essence these folks have been unregulated for years.”

While the effects of the water cleanup have the opportunity to be very beneficial, many people are upset at a clause in the regulation that singles out “high-risk systems.” The clause says that high-risk septic systems, those that are within a 10-foot boundary of a groundwater source or 250 feet from the lagoon, need to be targeted first. It further mandates these particular systems to regularly disinfect the water. However, there are very few water systems that are capable of disinfection, and in order to meet this standard numerous disinfection units would have to be installed.

“The bulk of the burden, if you ask me, is going to fall on local government,” Gold said. “It means Malibu and L.A. County will have to work with residents and landowners to figure out ways to make sure they are not polluting the creek. They may even have to pass an ordinance mandating the disinfections to make sure that they do occur.”

Currently, the city of Malibu is establishing a monitoring plan to test the waters and determine the main problems. But Yugal Lall, the city’s public works director, said the city is up for the challenge.

“This is all going to be a joint effort with all the many jurisdictions involved,” Lall said. “They are tough rules, but we are going to meet the regulations, of course, in the most economic way possible.”

Gold claims that any work that has to be done to meet the standards will produce very beneficial results. Surfrider Beach has been a main concern for Heal the Bay ever since it began monitoring beaches 10 years ago. Gold said during the entire 10-year period, Surfrider Beach has been the worst on their list.

“I can’t emphasize enough that this could really be a huge change for Surfrider Beach,” Gold said. “For all the surfers that have been getting sick for decades from exposure to the water, this finally gives them a glimmer of hope.”

Lall agrees that the possible pay-offs of the regulation are in the city’s best interest.

“Of course it is a good thing,” Lall said. “We are in support of it and we want to work jointly and collectively to achieve our goal.”