Regional Water Board approves deal with Malibu to build sewers

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In a unanimous 6-0 vote, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) approved on Thursday a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to build several centralized wastewater treatment facilities in the Civic Center area of Malibu. The three-phase plan, which requires the treatment facilities to be constructed by 2015, 2019 and possibly 2025, was negotiated over several months between RWQCB Executive Director Sam Unger and Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen. It was approved June 27 by the Malibu City Council.

RWQCB member Steve Blois said of the agreement, “I think we’re witnessing a bellweather moment in the relationship between Malibu and this board.”

Malibu City Councilmember Jefferson Wagner hailed the agreement as a step in the right direction.

“It was a real eye-opener to see something finally happen,” Wagner said. “All sides are now shoulder to shoulder in an effort to clean our beaches.”

The negotiations between Unger and Thorsen began after the state water board imposed a ban on septic systems for properties in the Civic Center area of Malibu in 2010. That original plan, developed by the RWQCB, included far more residential properties than the eventual MOU.

Many speakers at the hearing opposed the MOU Thursday. Representatives of environmental groups Heal the Bay, Santa Monica Baykeeper and the Surfrider Foundation each said the original plan drawn up by the RWQCB was superior, and that the current MOU does not put enough pressure on the City of Malibu to resolve its water quality issues in Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach.

“Clearly the MOU is substantially weaker and less costly [than the original plan] to the City of Malibu,” Heal the Bay president Mark Gold said. “I’m concerned the weakened requirements will result in reduced protection of public health and the environment.”

Malibu resident Lucille Keller, speaking for the Malibu Township Council, opposed the MOU because she said the recent U.S. Geological Survey study done by Dr. John Izbicki proved that septic systems were not to blame for contamination in the Civic Center area.

“There is no evidence that residential septic systems contribute to contamination,” Keller said.