The Regional Water Board voted 5-2 last night to approve a moratorium on septic systems in the Malibu civic center area. In a bid to clean up chronically polluted Surfrider Beach, the measure bans any new septic systems in the area and mandates removal of existing systems by 2015 for commercial properties and 2019 for residential properties. The environmental community — Baykeeper, Surfrider Foundation, Malibu Surfing Assn. and Heal the Bay — came out in large numbers to support a prohibition and moratorium for the civic center area. It was a great organizing effort that involved all groups.
Surfrider moved forward with its “Clean Water at the Bu” efforts with postcards and T-shirts. Testimony from Chad Nelson on the economics of polluted water was particularly effective. Malibu Surfing Assn. chief Michael Blum did an extraordinary job of garnering surfing community support. MSA gathered over a thousand signatures from surf clubs and Joe Melchione and Ken Seino moved many attendees by graphically recounting their histories of serious illness from surfing at Malibu. (Personally, I was partial to the “No Poo at the Bu” buttons created by Heal the Bay’s own Susie Santilena.)
Believe it or not, the Regional Board went further on the moratorium than Heal the Bay requested. We pushed for sewering the Malibu Creek watershed development, but we recommended an alternative that allowed advanced on-site treatment systems with disinfection for lower Winter Canyon, the Colony and commercial businesses east of Malibu Creek on PCH.
The City of Malibu developed its own alternative, which looked remarkably like Heal the Bay’s proposal, without the septic system prohibition and moratorium. Numerous local residents and business people spoke on the prohibitive cost of complying with the federal Clean Water Act and state Porter Cologne Act.
After eight hours of testimony and comment, I wasn’t sure how the Regional Board would vote. In the end, boardmembers acted boldly, despite never having moved forward on enforcement or regulatory actions against Malibu before. Their vote marks a historic action to clean up Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon, and Surfrider Beach.
What’s next? The action goes to the State Water Board for approval. After that, Malibu, some businesses, and some residents may sue the state over the far-reaching clean-up action. I hope they realize that their efforts garnered them a five-year compliance extension for residential systems and the ability to locate a city wastewater disposal system in the moratorium area of lower Winter Canyon.
In order to protect public health and aquatic life, Malibu should move forward with the planning, design and construction of a water recycling plant as soon as possible.
For now, we should celebrate that the state has finally held Malibu accountable for water quality in the lagoon and at Surfrider. Eighteen years of fighting for clean water at Surfrider have finally resulted in an enforceable solution to high nutrient concentrations and fecal bacteria counts. However, this issue will not go away and we will have to remain vigilant. Heal the Bay is willing to work with Malibu and the state to arrive at a wastewater recycling solution that works.