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County Warns of Pollution in Drains

August 29, 1985|JAMES RAINEY | Times Staff Writer

The county Health Services Department may post signs to warn beachgoers of the potential danger from organic pollution found in storm drain runoff at three Westside beaches.

Two of the storm drains empty onto Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades and the third pours onto Santa Monica State Beach.

Runoff from all three drains contains high levels of organic pollution, according to Frank Wada, laboratory manager for the Los Angeles City Bureau of Sanitation.

According to state standards, water in storm drains should be as safe as bathing--or swimming-- water. The regulations say that the coliform count (an indicator of organic pollution) of bathing water should be less than 1,000 per 100 milliliters. The three drains contain many times that. Health officials said that exposure to such pollutants can cause a variety of gastrointestinal illnesses, but nothing more serious. They said ocean water near the drains remains safe.

The Santa Monica drain ends at the base of Pico Boulevard, a quarter-mile south of Santa Monica Pier. The other drains are at the foot of Chautauqua Boulevard and at the base of Pulga Canyon, near Sunset Boulevard.

Questions about the drains were first raised by City Councilman Marvin Braude, who Friday persuaded the council to form a task force to study the problem of storm drain contamination. The council also recommended that the county post warning signs near the Santa Monica drain, which has the highest levels of pollution.

Bob Gates, the county's director of health services, is expected to decide soon whether to post signs not only at Pico, but at the two Pacific Palisades locations as well.

Wada said he notified county health officials about the pollution after a Braude deputy contacted him. He said the pollution could come from animal waste, human waste, garden fertilizer or other sources.

The Santa Monica drain, Wada said, for unknown reasons carries more contamination than the other two, sometimes 100 times the acceptable standard for bathing water.

Children sometimes play in pools of water formed by runoff from the Santa Monica drain.

"Any half-way conscientious mother would look at it (the runoff) and tell her kids, 'Hey, get out of there,' " said Richard Rinaldi, the county's director of environmental protection.

Rinaldi said signs would make it clear that people should not wade or play in the runoff streams. But ocean water near the drains remains safe to swim in, he said, because contaminants are greatly diluted by the sea.

Braude deputy Tom Brady said storm drain pollution has been recognized as a problem for many years but was overlooked because treatment methods seemed too costly or too difficult to design.

Brady said he raised questions about the storm drains after hearing about an unrelated development in Culver City, where a Los Angeles city sewer line has spilled raw sewage into Ballona Creek, which empties into the ocean at Playa del Rey.

"I think the situation with storm drains is about the same as it always has been," Brady said, "but there is just more concern now."

Braude's task force will bring together officials from the county flood-control district, the county health department, the city of Santa Monica and the Los Angeles City Bureau of Sanitation.

The task force will study means of reducing public exposure to storm drain contaminants, Brady said.

The city and county also may have to obey regulations for storm-drain runoffs recently established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The regulations will require cities to obtain permits for their storm drains by December, 1987, according to Tom Laverty, of the agency's Washington permits office.

Water from every drain in Los Angeles will have to be analyzed before the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board can issue permits for the city. The runoffs will be required to meet strict bathing water standards, according to board director Robert Ghirelli.

But an official of the county Department of Public Works said it would be impossible for the department to complete the water analysis and improvements needed to bring the water to acceptable standards.

Could Cost Billions

Public works spokeswoman Roslyn Robson said the department would have to spend $8,500 to complete testing for each of 1,000 storm drains. Continuous monitoring of the flows could cost as much as $360 million more, with construction of treatment facilities running into the billions of dollars, Robson said.

"We are looking for an exemption (to the permit process)," Robson said, "because of the potentially crippling effect on flood control locally. The regulations hold local government totally financially responsible."

The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Tuesday asking Congress to exempt storm sewers from the EPA guidelines. The board recommended that permits not be required until some of the financial burden is removed from local government.

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