Letter to the Editor: Response to Richard Sol’s Letter

Letter to the Editor: The Malibu Times

Response to Richard Sol’s Letter 

Dear Editor:

Richard Sol’s letter in the June 15 Malibu Times prompted me to provide a little history on the issue of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board’s (CRWQCB) 2009 declaration that septic systems in Serra Retreat and the Colony were the cause of high fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) levels in the Malibu Lagoon. 

I was on the City Council at that time and read a publication from the U.S. Geological Survey, California Water Science Center (USGS) about the sources of FIB in the Santa Barbara urban streams and ocean. The city contacted the principal author, John Izbicki, and suggested that a similar study in the near shore of the Colony and the Lagoon might be of interest to USGS and would help the city in dealing with the anti-septic regulators, like the CRWQCB. That extensive study was undertaken in 2009 in a collaboration between USGS and the city and the results were published in 2011 by the USGS.

This study involved numerous monitor wells in the Colony, the Lagoon and farther up Malibu Creek. It was conducted over nearly a year, including both wet and dry seasons with hundreds of samples taken and analyzed. The techniques used were far more complete and extensive than any ever done by the government regulators. To summarize the methodology, genetic analyses were used to identify source of the FIB found in the lagoon, in the monitor wells, and in septic systems. While there were many samples with high FIB levels in the lagoon and the near shore at low tide and when the berm was breached, human-specific FIBs were not measurable, strongly suggesting that human fecal material was not present.

The USGS research team conducted additional chemical, radioisotope, hydrogen isotopes, and oxygen isotope analyses to identify the sources of the water in the samples they took. These analyses showed that the water samples taken in the monitoring wells had varying amounts of water that could have only come from septic system, as the water characteristics are different for water from the public supply versus from groundwater. The conclusion is pretty clear that water from septic systems is entering the lagoon and near ocean, but the human fecal matter is not. Well-regulated septic systems work!  

There is an inherent belief by many environmental regulators and government agencies that central sewage treatment systems are the only alternative for wastewater treatment. This 2009 study shows that septic systems were not the cause of excessive FIBs in the Lagoon, yet the CRWQCB ignored this independent research effort and has continued to enforce Resolution R4-2009-007 stating that septic systems in Malibu Civic Center fail to meet water quality objectives. This conclusion flies in the face of good science and perpetuates a prohibition that has no sound scientific basis. 

John Sibert,

Former Malibu City Councilmember