Water water everywhere and nary a drop . . .


While the East Coast is suffering the worst drought in recorded history, Malibu argues about where to put water it doesn’t need or want.

This is not virgin rainwater, however. It is preowned — water that has been used, treated (some say insufficiently) stored, sold and, in some cases, is not needed.

But disposing of unwanted water in a beachside community with high groundwater levels is a thorny issue. Underground aquifers are not an option.

Most of the wastewater from Pepperdine University and Malibu Country Estates is treated at the Malibu Mesa Wastewater Treatment Facility, at John Tyler Drive and PCH, which is operated by Los Angeles County Public Works under a permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Essentially, Pepperdine recycles its wastewater by irrigating its landscape, useful in summer and drought years, problematic in the average winter.

Since October 1981, the plant has had an emergency discharge permit for 200,000 gallons per day, the plant’s capacity, into Marie Canyon, says Brian Hooper, assistant division engineer with county Public Works. Marie Canyon empties onto the beach at Malibu Road and into Santa Monica Bay.

“We are applying for renewal of that discharge permit,” Hooper said. “We are not asking for an increase in volume.”

According to Winnie Jesena, chief of RWQCB’s Los Angeles Coastal Watershed Unit, “They are applying for renewal of that permit to discharge during the rainy season when their storage tanks are full.”

The Malibu Mesa plant treats raw sewage with biological disinfection to get it to reclaimed water quality, which it sends back to Pepperdine, Hooper said. Pepperdine also sends some of its raw sewage to the Tapia Reclamation Facility in Malibu Canyon for treatment and buys back reclaimed water for irrigation.

Pepperdine’s irrigation demand is listed at a maximum of 300,000 gallons a day. It can hold 12.4 million gallons in its two reservoirs on campus, which store treated water from the Malibu Mesa plant and some that is purchased from Tapia.

City Councilman Harry Barovsky said he has records showing Pepperdine receives about eight times more reclaimed water from Tapia than it sends for treatment. Records for 28 months in 1990 to 1992 show an average of 10,875 gallons of sewage received at Tapia and 87,107 gallons reclaimed water delivered to Pepperdine. “I have updated records that I’ve given to the city,” he said. “If they only took back what they shipped that would be a beginning of a solution.”

The inference is that Tapia is dumping its excess reclaimed water through Pepperdine into Marie Canyon.

“There is absolutely no connection between Malibu Mesa and Tapia,” Hooper said. “We receive no discharge from Tapia and we don’t send anything to Tapia.”

Digested sludge from Malibu Mesa is hauled to a Los Angeles collection facility and ultimately winds up at the Hyperion plant, Hooper said.

Sludge from Tapia goes to the Las Virgenes Water District’s composting facility in Malibu Canyon.

Barovsky, who lives on Malibu Road, said residents there are opposed to the dumping of more water onto the beach. “My concern is they want to send 200,000 gallons a day, that they could store and use for irrigation, down a geologically unstable canyon.”

Save Our Coast’s Mary Frampton, who opposes all discharges into the ocean on environmental grounds, agrees with Barovsky and has written letters to the RWQCB urging denial of the Malibu Mesa request.

The dichotomy is that Malibu Road residents have traditionally opposed irrigation of the hillsides above their properties — Pepperdine’s huge grass area, Country Estates lawns and Bluffs Park ball fields — as contributing to slope failures along Malibu Road. “We feel that irrigation has a tremendous effect on the geology of the bluffs,” Barovsky said. “We would like to see Pepperdine put in xeriscape, [native plants that require little irrigation].”

Tapia’s RWQCB permit for treating and selling wastewater allows discharge of unsold water into Malibu Creek except during the dry season, from May to October, when the Malibu Lagoon sand berm is closed. Tapia has just received permits to discharge unsold water into the Los Angeles River. That, Barovsky said, “is a good beginning.” Frampton agrees. “Malibu shouldn’t be a dumping ground for developments in the whole watershed.”

Malibu Mesa’s request, scheduled for consideration and public hearing by the RWQCB June 30, has been postponed to a future board meeting. Malibu residents may submit written opinions to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, Attention Carlos Urrunaga, 320 W. 4th St., Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA 90013.