Ozone, filter may clean storm drain runoff


A storm drain known to city staff as “the mystery drain” will get its act cleaned up with high-tech filters and ozonation, thanks to a donation by Bioxide Corp. The Utah-based firm will contribute $220,000 in sterilization equipment to test its effectiveness on the area’s most notoriously polluted body of water.

The City Council last month approved the project, agreeing to add $62,000 in city funds to a $51,000 Los Angeles County Proposition A grant and a $5,000 donation from Southern California Edison.

The prospect of cleaning up runoff from the most problematic of three drains that empty into the lagoon makes City Engineer Rick Morgan a happy man.

“I’ve been working on this for two years, trying to make this happen,” he said. “Bioxide donated the equipment because Malibu Lagoon is one of the best sites for a demonstration project. It has already been shown to have a high coliform count.”

Edison kicked in $5,000 to support the use of electrical power to clean up the environment. The city will also assume all the maintenance costs, estimated at $6,500 a year.

In a process similar to that used to sterilize milk and juice containers, runoff from the 24-inch drain will be filtered through ultraviolet light and ozone to kill bacteria and viruses. In addition to the filters, a separator collects grease and oil that is washed into the drain from streets and parking lots. The canister-shaped filters will be housed in an underground vault near the outlet at the east end of the Malibu Colony.

One of three storm drains that empty into the lagoon, it was known to the city only as “the mystery drain” since its discovery several years ago because it did not appear on county maps. “The mystery is all gone, but the name was so catchy,” Morgan said. “We can’t deny its presence. We’re calling it the Malibu Road Drain now.”

Although environmental activists have pushed for ozonation to clean up the lagoon and adjoining surf zone, some have raised objections to the location of this project.

The Surfrider Foundation/ Malibu Chapter pointed out in a letter that while the organization supports non-point-source runoff treatment, it questions the proposed location of the facility and the present outlet of the drain.

Surfrider’s concern is that the drain was originally constructed without full and complete permits on what was “a historic tidal wetland” and does not meet EPA standards now.

Grant Neie of Los Angeles County Public Health Programs, who chairs Surfrider’s technical committee, stated in his letter the organization would like the drain removed and redirected to its original location, which he believed was a straight line from the old Colony Drug Store to the ocean, or farther west, so that it does not empty into the lagoon.

“We would like the treatment facility located near the source of the runoff on land owned by the developer or the city,” Neie states.

Morgan met with Neie last week and explained that what Neie saw on a plat map was an error and not the original location of the drain.

“We agree with their desire to eliminate that storm drain from the lagoon,” Morgan said Tuesday. The staff has proposed an alternate ocean outlet as part of its Draft Storm Drain Master Plan, which has not yet been approved by the City Council, he said. “To divert the runoff is a long-term goal.”

The project can be installed on the drain where it is now and later moved with little expense. “The system could be relocated,” he said. “It’s only going to take a couple of weeks to install.”

Morgan said the city moved last week to consider possibly fitting the other two drains with the filters.

Possible sources of lagoon pollution have been blamed on everything from nearby septic systems to the Tapia Water Reclamation facility upstream, and even livestock and ducks have been targeted as contributors to the notoriously high coliform counts that sicken swimmers and surfers when the sand berm is breached by winter rains allowing lagoon water to flow onto Surfrider Beach.