Civic Center Area to Adopt Plan to Manage Groundwater Quality

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The map above shows the remaining parcels of undeveloped commercial-zoned property in the Civic Center area

In 2010, the septic systems used throughout the Civic Center area were found by the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board to impact groundwater quality and contribute to pollution in Malibu Creek, the Malibu Lagoon and the nearby shore environment. The board prohibited any new septic systems in the Malibu Civic Center area, as well as any further discharges from existing systems, establishing a phased schedule for compliance over a period of years. These orders resulted in a de facto building moratorium.

Last Tuesday, a scoping meeting with public comments took place at City Hall for a salt and nutrient management plan (SNMP) for managing the water quality of groundwater in the Civic Center area. 

Malibu’s Civic Center, known as the Malibu Valley Groundwater Basin to the State and Regional Water Quality Control Boards, is the only official “groundwater basin” identified by the state in Malibu. As such, the area is subject to more regulation than other city creeks that empty into the Pacific. There are 515 groundwater basins in California, which are essentially aquifers — able to store or hold a significant amount of water.

In 2009, the State Water Resources Control Board began a statewide Recycled Water Policy to encourage use of recycled water and local storm water, and also required a SNMP for each basin to limit the amounts of those particular pollutants that percolate into the groundwater.

Construction of a Civic Center Wastewater Treatment Facility has now been planned to allow for the centralized collection and treatment of all wastewater from the septic prohibition area. The recycled water will then be used for landscape irrigation in the Civic Center and surrounding areas, with any surplus recycled water injected into the Malibu Valley Groundwater Basin. The facility’s water treatment will also help keep nitrates, bacteria and total dissolved solids out of the groundwater.

Because Malibu has plans for a treatment facility that would be injecting recycled water back into the ground, the city has been moved to a higher priority for getting its SNMP groundwater management plan approved, although all such plans are due by 2016.

Ginachi Amah, who reports to the Water Quality Control Board in L.A., said the main goal of the SNMP is to “protect the groundwater basin and to promote the use of recycled water and storm water.” She also added that, “Malibu has a high profile at the state water level.”

Strategies for managing salt and nutrients in groundwater appear to be fairly straightforward with the building of the treatment facility.

City of Malibu Environmental and Building Safety Manager Craig George confirmed that the city will start regular sampling and testing of the Civic Center area groundwater in August. 

“This will give them baseline information and two years of data before the treatment system comes online,” Amah said.  

For example, in the future, if salts are found to be too high, the city could look at its groundwater management plan to decide what action to take. The city could, according to Duma, decide it wants to ban water softeners in that area, since they add a lot of salt to the water. Another mitigation measure might be to ensure that as much ground surface as possible remains permeable (not asphalt or concrete), which would allow more rainwater to percolate into the ground and dilute the salt water. 

Amah explained that although basin planning is exempt from some California Environmental Quality Act requirements, the state still requires an Environmental Impact Report-type document. A draft will be released for public comment in about two months. The SNMP prepared for the Malibu Valley Groundwater Basin will eventually be adopted by the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board as part of its overall Basin Plan.

The proposed SNMP can be viewed in its entirety at malibucity.org. The public comment period ends Sept. 10, 2015 at 5 p.m. Comments can be emailed to Ginachi.Amah@waterboards.ca.gov.