Lagoon dewatering set to begin this week

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The last of four wooden pedestrian bridges which connected a path to Surfrider Beach is removed from the lagoon by excavators. Photo courtesy of Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission

California State Parks officials plan to begin dewatering the Malibu Lagoon this week after receiving approval Monday from the Coastal Commission. Project opponents hold out 11th hour hope of changes.

By Knowles Adkisson / Associate Editor

Dewatering in the Malibu Lagoon should begin Wednesday or Thursday this week, California State Parks officials said as they awaited lab results from water samples taken Tuesday. Dewatering refers to the draining of groundwater from the lagoon, before it is treated and discharged into the ocean.

State Parks had been waiting for California Coastal Commission staff to approve the details of the final dewatering plan put forth by Ford E.C., Inc., the contractor hired by State Parks to dredge and reshape the 12-acre wetland west of the Malibu Creek mouth. That approval came Monday, according to Suzanne Goode, a senior environmental scientist for State Parks.

“We are currently completing our tests of the dewatering disinfection system,” Goode said Tuesday in a telephone interview, referring to the water purification facility that will treat the infected lagoon water before it is discharged into the ocean at nearby Surfrider Beach.

The facility has been constructed, and Goode said the lagoon water was being tested as it goes into the plant and out of the plant. Before dewatering may begin, the facility must prove capable of treating the infected lagoon water to meet specified standards concerning fecal indicator bacteria, dissolved oxygen, PH and other variables before the water is discharged into the ocean. Goode expected to receive the necessary approval and begin dewatering late Wednesday or Thursday morning.

Should that happen, State Parks has until Oct. 15 under its permit from the Coastal Commission to finish dewatering. The lagoon has been divided out into different basins, which will be drained of groundwater one by one. Once dry, sediment will be removed and taken out via dump trucks. Goode said she expected the trucking to begin within “days to weeks.”

The Coastal Commission’s approval of the final dewatering details comes over the objections of the City of Malibu, which wrote a letter on June 28 raising several concerns over the dewatering plans.

The letter questioned whether the contractor had correctly calculated the amount of infected lagoon water that would need to be treated, as well as the adequacy of water storage capacity of temporary basins used to contain the lagoon water before it is treated and discharged into the nearby ocean.

In addition, the city raised concerns about a discharge pipe that will take the treated water from the filtration and disinfection facilities to the ocean, saying that the pipe could be vulnerable to unpredictable tidal flows and tidal surge. The letter also requested twice-daily water monitoring at the discharge location at Surfrider Beach, as opposed to the daily monitoring proposed under the current dewatering plan.

But on Monday, Coastal Commission Senior Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth in a letter indicated no willingness to bow to the city’s concerns.

If treatment capacity became an issue, Ainsworth wrote that Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester would require the contractor to submit new plans.

“In the event that unexpected conditions are encountered in the field that result in the need for increased capacity, the applicant would be required to submit revised plans, for the review and approval of the Executive Director, to add additional treatment filtration system components to handle pumping rates or add additional capacity to the storage basins to contain the seepage,” Ainsworth wrote.

Ainsworth also did not share the city’s concern about the location of the discharge pipe and the frequency of water monitoring at Surfrider Beach.

“The pipeline will be located outside of the surf zone and is not expected to be acted upon by wave action during dewatering operations,” Ainsworth wrote. “Regardless, the water filtration system and dewatering operations will be continuously monitored during dewatering operations by the applicant and/or project contractors to assure the system is operating properly and the discharge pipeline does not become dislodged.”

While the project is increasingly taking on an air of inevitability, opponent Marcia Hanscom said she is still holding out hope that the Coastal Commission would call a halt to it and consider “a more sane solution.”

Hanscom filed a revocation request against the project in the second week in June. The request argued that State Parks did not provide accurate information when it claimed summer was the only time to do the project in part due to the presence of steelhead trout in the lagoon. But Hanscom claims State Parks withheld surveys it performed that found no presence of steelhead trout in the lagoon in the last 10 to 20 years.

She said she was told by Ainsworth to expect a decision from Coastal Commission staff this week.

“Some people would say ‘Why would [the Coastal Commission] stop it now?’” Hanscom said. “Well the thing is … While there has been a lot of destruction, there also could be a better way to move forward on this project at this point.”