Cleaning Up the Stink in Malibu

200390363-001My kids are ages 16, 13 and 10.  Trying to get them to clean up the mess in their rooms is nearly impossible.  If I badger them continuously, promises will be made to tidy up.  Inevitably, these pledges are empty and rarely result in a clean room.  My experience with Malibu during its 18 years of cityhood is pretty similar: a horrible mess, an ungodly smell, and plenty of unfulfilled promises. 

On Thursday, the Regional Water Board will play the role of the parent that has had enough of a recalcitrant child.  Malibu, board members will say, it’s time to clean up your mess and get real about fixing long-standing water quality issues. And this time there are consequences — an immediate ban on new septic systems in the Malibu civic center area and a moratorium on all on-site wastewater treatment systems by 2014.

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Deja Poo

San Diego's sewage plant should be source of shame

San Diego's sewage plant should be source of shame

Scientists claiming that poorly treated sewage poses no ecological harm to local marine life.  Bureaucrats claiming that their sewage treatment system has a spotless record despite a long history of major sewage spills. The mayor claiming that the large city deserves a waiver from the full secondary treatment requirements of the 1972 Clean Water Act because of the prohibitive cost of environmental compliance.

Los Angeles circa 1985?  Nope.

San Diego from the grunge period of the early ‘90s?  Nope.

Try today’s San Diego — the city that the Clean Water Act forgot.

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Déjà vu

Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant

Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant: 301(h) waiver denied!

Today’s guest blogger is Kirsten James, Water Quality Director at Heal the Bay

History has a habit of repeating itself. Nearly 25 years ago, Heal the Bay was born when Dorothy Green and her friends fought the Environmental Protection Agency’s 301(h) wavier for Los Angeles’ Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant. Despite Clean Water Act requirements for secondary treatment, Hyperion was spewing effluent with only primary treatment into the Santa Monica Bay and causing massive environmental damage. Contrary to what some argued, sewage was NOT good for the fish! Fortunately for the Bay and its inhabitants, Heal the Bay efforts were successful and Hyperion is now a world-class treatment facility.

Who would have thought that a quarter of a century later, Californians would be fighting the same battle again?

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No Day at the Beach

L.A. County legal strategy puts swimmers at risk

L.A. County legal strategy puts swimmers at risk

This week, the State Water Board heard Los Angeles County’s appeal on the inclusion of enforceable beach water quality standards in the county’s stormwater permit.  The county appealed the permit despite the fact that the L.A. Regional Board modified the permit nearly three years ago and it has been relatively successful in getting a lot of beaches cleaned up of fecal pollution during the summer months.

The county’s dubious arguments stem from its challenge to putting enforceable numeric limits in the permit.  In the case of Santa Monica Bay, the limits are that every beach along the Bay must comply with fecal bacteria water quality standards 100% of the time from April through October.  Some beaches, like Santa Monica Pier, Dockweiler at Ballona Creek, and Malibu Surfrider exceed limits dozens of times each summer.

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Trumping Public Health

Trump has a mess on his hands in Baja

Trump has a mess on his hands in Baja

The Los Angeles Times today examines the failed Trump Ocean Resort in Baja, just below Tijuana. The failure of the massive 525-unit vacation home complex has cost investors millions.

The controversy over the use and abuse of Donald Trump’s “good name” has become the focus of the high-profile collapse. But what hasn’t been mentioned prominently is the potential public health disaster that looms over the project. Continue reading

How to Save the ‘Bu

Malibu Lagoon. Copyright © 2002-2003 Kenneth Adelman, California Coastal Records Project.

Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach. Copyright © 2002-2003 Kenneth Adelman, California Coastal Records Project.

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.

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A Mess in Malibu

a victim of civic foot-dragging

Malibu Lagoon: a victim of civic foot-dragging

Malibu’s history is inextricably linked with celebrities, natural disasters, a gorgeous coastline and … sewage problems.  In fact, Malibu became a city when L.A. County tried to force a huge sewage treatment plant in undeveloped Corral Canyon down residents’ throats.  Yet here we are 17 years later and Malibu has yet to seriously address the sewage water quality problems that continue to plague the Civic Center area.

The chronic pollution problems at world-class Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Lagoon are likely going to come to a head at the next Regional Water Board meeting, on Nov. 20. And the potential for a big-time scolding of Malibu for its failure to effectively manage its sewage is extremely high. Furthermore, the city’s foot-dragging on the proposed buildout of  a centralized water treatment facility has left me and many other environmental leaders convinced that an integrated solution to Malibu’s pollution problems will be delivered many years in the future, if at all.

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