Tapia plant discharges wastewater into Malibu Creek

Late season rains June 1 forced the release of treated recycled water from the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility into Malibu Creek, according to water district officials.

The closure of the Malibu Lagoon sand berm May 8 marked the start of a six-month, dry season prohibition on discharge into the creek under the Regional Water Quality Control Board permit for Tapia. The permit restriction, which remains in effect until Oct. 31, allows exceptions for “uncontrollable events,” including rain storms and plant upsets, according to Arlene Post, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District spokeswoman.

The district was fined by the water board for off-season discharges last year. The fine was lowered on appeal.

Officials from the RWQCB had not responded to inquiries for this story as of press time.

“Extraordinary measures” were put in place by the water district to avoid the need to discharge, despite ongoing cool and overcast weather this spring and throughout the Memorial Day weekend — when demand for recycled water for irrigation drops.

“Our crews worked tirelessly throughout the Memorial Day weekend to dispose of the surplus recycled water through surface waste spray,” said Jim Colbaugh, LVMWD general manager, in a prepared statement. “Tuesday morning, we were delighted with our success, but overnight rains quickly turned that around.”

On the morning of June 2, with rain falling and all land-disposal options eliminated, release to the creek was the only option left.

“The decision was not made lightly — but was unavoidable due to natural events, as is allowed under the conditions of the permit,” Colbaugh said.

According to records kept by county lifeguards at Surfrider Beach, the berm closed naturally on May 7 at 8 a.m. and at 4 p.m. reopened on its own. On May 12 at 8 a.m. it closed and then reopened May 19 before 8 a.m. or overnight, flowing until May 30. Since June 3 at 1 p.m., the creek has continued to flow. “But the sand is building up to close itself off again, probably within a week,” said John Larson, ocean lifeguard specialist.

The berm generally opens when water levels in the creek and lagoon are elevated and sometimes opens and closes during high tides.

Surfers, who suffer eye, ear, skin and respiratory infections from polluted water that flows onto Surfrider Beach, have fought to prevent all discharges into the creek. They have been active in trying to design a water-level management plan for the lagoon. Surfers have been known to form a “shovel brigade” when a berm breach is imminent, opening the berm several hundred yards to the west to protect the surf break. Water quality at Surfrider Beach routinely is rated “F” by environmental protection organization Heal the Bay.

Malibu environmentalists and city officials have long blamed Tapia for high levels of nitrogen and bacterial and viral counts in Malibu Creek and Lagoon, but a recent study by UCLA researchers failed to pinpoint exact sources of the pollution.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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