The battle between Malibu and the Regional Water Board has become even more heated. On Nov. 20, the Regional Water Board will vote on whether or not to revoke the septic system MOU for Malibu. Without the MOU, Malibu won’t be able to issue waste discharge requirements for any new systems, so this move could act as a de facto septic system moratorium for all new single-family homes in the entire city of Malibu because the Regional Board doesn’t have the staff to review more septic tank permitting applications.
In addition, all commercial development in the city could be slowed to a crawl because of the same water board resource issues. Malibu responded to the threat of revocation like a cornered bobcat by sending out threatening and insulting letters to the Regional Board. The city even questioned the impeccable ethics of Board Executive Officer Tracy Egoscue because the NRDC and her former employer, the Santa Monica Baykeeper, have previously sued Malibu for violations of the county stormwater permit and the beach bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load (the limits that make it illegal for swimmer health standards to be exceeded from April to October). The letter was inflammatory, factually incorrect and escalated the tension between the Regional Water Board and Malibu to the boiling point.
From my perspective, the solution to the problem is obvious. The water board and Malibu need to enter into a legally binding commitment for Malibu to solve their civic center wastewater management problems by 2011. Malibu needs to commit to building a centralized water recycling facility that provides at least filtration, denitrification (nitrogen removal), and disinfection. All of the commercial facilities in the Civic Center should be required to tie in to the treatment facility. In addition, Serra Retreat, the eastern part of the Colony and maybe even the commercial facilities along PCH up to ¼ mile south of Malibu Pier should be phased in over the next decade. Malibu needs to recycle as much of the treated wastewater as possible, with the remainder kept in storage or disposed of in leach fields outside the area that drains to Malibu Creek and Lagoon. Sounds relatively simple, but implementation poses an enormous political and financial problem.
Growing pains are never easy, especially for a city like Malibu that has so many rich and powerful residents. However, at 17, adolescence is coming to an end and it is time for city leaders to grow up and take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves. Malibu’s residents include some of the most influential environmental supporters and activists in the country. I hope they look at this moment in time as an opportunity to restore and protect one of the country’s truly special places.