Pointing a finger at local polluters

No one denies the water in Malibu Lagoon is polluted, and when water levels are high, the sand berm is breached, flushing pollutants onto Surfrider Beach.

That water has been analyzed for everything and by everyone from Heal the Bay to UCLA, and the experts readily acknowledge that swimmers and surfers are getting sick from it.

There is less agreement, however, on the source or sources of high coliform counts, bacteria, viruses and such. Storm runoff, septic seepage, creek bathers, horses, even ducks are blamed, along with the most obvious recycled water discharger, the Tapia Reclamation Facility.

The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District has operated Tapia under terms of an NPDES permit issued in 1984 authorizing the discharge of surplus recycled water, that which is not sold for irrigation. In November 1997, restrictions were added prohibiting direct discharges to Malibu Creek (with exceptions) between May 1 and October 31.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board fined the district for discharges between those dates last year. In an effort to comply with terms of the permit, the district and its joint venture partner Triunfo Sanitation District have undertaken a Creek Discharge Avoidance Study (CDAS) to identify alternative solutions, possibly avoiding discharges year round.

“We certainly support diversion and getting Tapia’s discharge out of Malibu Creek year round,” said City Engineer Rick Morgan.

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The RWQCB says it intends to fine the city $5,700 for failure to submit a work plan for a technical investigation of water quality impacts from septic systems in areas adjacent to the creek and lagoon. The City Council met in closed session last week to consider the possibility of contesting that action in court; however, City Attorney Christi Hogin said no “reportable action” was taken.

City officials told the RWQCB last year they wanted to wait until the UCLA Lower Malibu Creek and Barrier Lagoon System Resource Enhancement and Management report was released before proceeding with its own work plan. The UCLA study was released in February, and the city submitted its workplan Feb. 9.

The UCLA study, however, offers more of a menu than any specific recipes for improving water quality. And now the study is being studied — by the Malibu Creek Watershed Executive and Advisory Council, the Malibu Lagoon Task Force, whose mandate is to manage water levels in the lagoon, and a host of other watershed stakeholders.

“We have been actively developing our work plan through the city’s Building and Safety Department,” Morgan said. The city has already begun testing septic systems in the Cross Creek area and is studying numerous onsite wastewater treatment options.

The LVMWD has determined that an Environmental Impact Report associated with the CDAS alternatives will be required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Copies of the Notice of Preparation are available to the public at the district offices and local libraries. Written comments may be submitted by mail, e-mail or fax through May 24. A public scoping meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 12 in the board of directors meeting room at the LVMWD headquarters, 4232 Las Virgenes Rd., Calabasas.

Mail responses to LVMWD c/o Sandra Bauer, Bauer Environmental Services, 15901 Red Hill Ave., Suite 210, Tustin, CA 92780. Telephone: 714.258.8055. Fax: 714.258.7755 e-mail: bauer7@earthlink.net

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

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