City: De-watering lagoon a concern

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The city writes letters to Coastal Commission and state officials about concerns over the lagoon ahead of a June 1 restoration project.

By Knowles Adkisson / Associate Editor

The City of Malibu on Monday sent a letter to the California Coastal Commission expressing concerns over de-watering of the Malibu Lagoon during the restoration project scheduled to start June 1. City Manager Jim Thorsen also said the city was unable to hire a search firm to review scientific evidence on the lagoon.

The city’s letter cites “fatal flaws” in the California State Parks plan to reshape the lagoon. The most urgent, according to the city, is the plan to empty the lagoon of water and onto the nearby shore before using bulldozers to reshape its channels.

The current plan is to pump water, much of it highly infected, out of the lagoon continuously for at least three days and as many as seven days. According to estimates by city staff, emptying the lagoon over a three-day period would require continuous pumping of 11,200 gallons per minute. Yet it says the contractor hired by State Parks is only required to design a water treatment facility with the capacity to treat 1,100 gallons per minute, and the lack of capacity has not been addressed by State Parks.

The city said dumping the infected water onto the sand without treatment could cause “a significant increase in bacteria to recreation water during the height of the summer season.” It also requested a monitoring plan to analyze water samples during construction, and that it be involved with that monitoring.

The city has also filed an amicus brief in support of a motion seeking to stay the project that was filed in the state Court of Appeals by Wetlands Defense Fund and two other environmental groups under the leadership of activist Marcia Hanscom. Earlier, on April 23, the City Council sent a letter from Mayor Laura Rosenthal to Governor Jerry Brown expressing opposition to the project.

Thus far, appeals to state officials to stop the project have fallen on deaf ears. Richard Stapler, Deputy Secretary of Communications for the California Natural Resources Agency, responded to the city’s letter on Brown’s behalf about a week later in an e-mail to The Malibu Times.

“Without significant intervention, the Malibu Lagoon will continue in decline and is doomed to become a stagnant waterway, devoid of the kind life that historically thrived here. The science behind the restoration has lead us to an unbiased conclusion on what is happening in the lagoon and what is the best way to remedy the issues,” Stapler wrote. “We are confident in the science, its application, and the host of permits granted from multiple environmental and land use entities to continue with the restoration.”

City Manager Jim Thorsen also said at Monday night’s regular City Council meeting that efforts to hire a search firm to review the scientific evidence surrounding the lagoon project have fallen through. The previous City Council, in what some viewed as a political consideration, voted in January to spend $25,000 on an independent scientific firm to review the conflicting scientific evidence surrounding the project.

Rosenthal said on April 27 that the U.S. Geological Survey had been hired to research the evidence. But Thorsen on Monday said the USGS backed away from the project after the City Council voted April 9 to officially oppose the lagoon restoration plan. The organization did not want its findings to have the appearance of being influenced by politics, Thorsen said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the only firm that has not been vetted and debated by State Parks and project opponents Wetlands Defense Fund, Thorsen said. The $25,000 allocated for the review has not been spent, Thorsen said.