Going downhill

When each winter we occasionally hear that the Hyperion plant by LAX has accidentally spilt a few million gallons of partially or untreated sewage into the sea, we always wonder, “how can this come to happen?”

The answer is that they have permits from a governmental agency that allow them to undersize their treatment facilities, by planning on an occasional “emergency” overflow. Thus the cost saved by making the plant smaller or less reliable than really needed is transferred “legally,” involuntarily onto the ocean, and onto surrounding communities who rely on the ocean — including the whales and dolphins and us.

Now we hear that plant serving Pepperdine University (with its expansion plans) proposes to follow this precedent and impose its costs, and effluent, on Malibu and our beaches. This deplorable move may be legally possible because Pepperdine is outside city limits, and sewage flows downhill.

The proposed special permit for Pepperdine expansion provides for an occasional “emergency” overflow of no more than 200,000 gallons per day. Well, what if there is more in an “emergency?” And why not set that quota at zero gallons per day?

Let us establish a simple policy that every property must fully process its sewage onsiteand either evaporate or recycle the effluent. And existing commercial properties that routinely overflow (giving Malibu the distinction of “open sewers” more familiar in other parts of the world) must be required to pool 100 percent of their effluent in the immediate vicinity. Sewers must be sized to the maximum peak discharge for the properties they serve, and the between-peak perceived “excess” capacity must not be assigned to any new uses, because it is a margin of safety.

The full load of any prospective additional commercial development, and the resulting costs, must be tied to the individual property, not dumped on the environment and neighbors, including those who live in the sea.

Francis Jeffrey

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

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