Water board puts septic ban on agenda

The ban would affect existing residents, businesses and public facilities that discharge wastewater through septic systems in the Civic Center area.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

Fed up with the local polluted waters, the Regional Water Quality Control Board will meet Oct. 1 in Los Angeles to consider a prohibition of onsite wastewater disposal systems, or septic systems, in the Civic Center area.

A public workshop to discuss the matter will take place in Malibu before the hearing at an undetermined date and location, Stephen Cain, spokesman for the regional board, said Monday in a telephone interview.

Threats of sewer installation have never gone over well in this area, where the belief is that keeping the city on septic tanks limits development. The effectiveness of septic systems in Malibu has long been disputed. Several environmental groups have filed an onslaught of lawsuits accusing the city of water pollution and urging the implementation of a centralized wastewater treatment facility. However, some residents say septic systems, which are utilized by approximately 80 percent of Malibu, are not the cause of pollution in local waterways. A preliminary report by the U.S. Geological Survey team has stated that ocean water near Malibu Colony may not be the result of septic pollution, but that of tidal action washing animal waste into the ocean. However, final tests are not in.

The proposed septic tank prohibition would affect existing residents, businesses and public facilities that discharge wastewater through septic systems in the Civic Center area, which includes Malibu Valley, Winter Canyon and the adjacent coastal strips of land and beaches. The ban would immediately forbid all new discharges from septic systems in the area, and would give existing dischargers five years to cease excretion.

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The staff report for the Oct. 1 Regional Water meeting, released on Friday, does not specify the manner of compliance with the prohibition, but offers options for conceptual wastewater management projects. These proposed compliance projects include construction, operation and maintenance of integrated water resources management facilities that would treat wastewater in, and distribute recycled water from, a centralized plant within the community; a sewer collection system that would export sewage for treatment at a facility in another community; or a decentralized wastewater management facility that would treat wastewater and distribute recycled water from small plants within the community.

“A centralized wastewater treatment system would cost $30 million to $40 million and property owners would have to pay to build it,” City Manager Jim Thorsen said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

City-owned property in the Civic Center area includes land that houses the Malibu Performing Arts Center on Stewart Ranch Road, and the land on which the Malibu Lumber Yard mall, the Coldwell Banker site and the Pacific Coast Animal Hospital sit.

The city intends to implement a centralized wastewater treatment facility on the La Paz property on Civic Center Way, which is currently under review by the California Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Quality Control Board. However, environmental group Santa Monica Baykeeper in December sued the city for approving La Paz’s environmental impact report, which, Baykeeper says, fails to evaluate the impacts associated with flooding, water quality and storm water runoff in the Civic Center area.

The Malibu Lumber Yard mall is required to hook up to a centralized wastewater system upon its implementation, but the proposed septic system ban may trigger heavy opposition from other Civic Center area property owners who have already spent millions upgrading their existing septic systems to meet discharge regulations.

The water board has been taking an aggressive stance not only with the city but also with local businesses regarding wastewater discharge permits. In April it cited more than three-dozen Malibu businesses and public facilities in the Civic Center area and elsewhere for a variety of alleged violations related to water quality.

Steve Soboroff, former owner of Cross Creek Plaza, spent $4 million on septic system upgrades, new co-owner Pouya Abdi said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

Developer Abdi said he was unfamiliar with septic system operations because Cross Creek Plaza “is the only property we own that’s not hooked up to a sewer system.”

Though he didn’t oppose the idea of hooking up to a sewer system in the Civic Center, Abdi said he would make the effort to avoid having to do so.

Meanwhile, Thorsen said the city plans to present the Regional Board with results from four different studies that will help determine the sources of the bacteria present in Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach.

“We share the same vision as the board,” Thorsen said. “We’re looking to improve ocean water quality.

“We probably have the most aggressive stormwater system in the state,” he continued. “The city spends more funds per capita on water quality than any other city in California. We should be applauded for all the water quality improvements we’re making.”

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