With Los Angeles under fire for sewage pollution of Santa Monica Bay, Mayor Tom Bradley, whose administration has insisted that limited treatment was safe, is now asking for complete treatment of all sewage dumped into the bay from the city's Hyperion plant.
"The City of Los Angeles is committed to protecting the Santa Monica Bay," Bradley said in a letter to James Grossman, chairman of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, which fined the city $30,050 for dumping raw sewage into Ballona Creek and the bay.
"To achieve our goal of the cleanest possible bay, we are determined to install a full secondary treatment system at the Hyperion Waste Treatment Plant."
Federal and state officials, who have been pressed by the city for years for exemptions from tough pollutions standards, expressed surprise--and satisfaction.
Grossman said in an interview that the letter is a "positive step in that it shows the highest levels of the city government have now awakened to the need for high-level commitment to water quality management. . . . Perhaps it's because we fined the city. . . . I think it was embarrassing."
"In the face of a very embarrassing charge the city is polluting the bay, he (Bradley) is at last taking steps that should have been taken before, but they are welcome steps," said Assemblyman Tom Hayden, (D-Santa Monica), a critic of the city's anti-pollution efforts. "He is putting himself in the middle of responsibility for Santa Monica Bay for the first time."
"It caught us all by surprise," said Bill Pierce, a top water quality compliance official for the Western region office of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is currently considering another city request for exemption from strict standards.
The letter was sent as Bradley moved toward a 1986 gubernatorial election rematch with Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, whose environmental record has been strongly attacked by the mayor. Asked if he thought the letter was motivated by a Bradley desire to boost his environmental record, Grossman, who was appointed to his post by Deukmejian, replied, "I think that is right on."
Bradley is faced with two problems with the city's aging sewage system, both of which will cost millions of dollars to solve.
One, as described by Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, is that the city has allowed great development without increasing the capacity of old pipes or treatment plants, causing "too much sewage into too little pipe." Yaroslavsky and other city officials attributed the Ballona Creek spill, and a more recent spill that closed Will Rogers State Beach during the Labor Day weekend, to that condition.
The second problem involves the quality of sewage treatment at the Hyperion plant, which is located at the bay, near El Segundo, and which handles 420 million gallons of sewage daily.
A total of 75% of that sewage receives only enough treatment to remove solids. Only 25% receives full secondary treatment, which removes enough chemicals and bacteria to make the sewage usable for irrigation.
Federal clean water standards require such secondary treatment. Since 1972, Los Angeles and other Pacific Coast cities have fought that requirement, saying that the unique Pacific deep canyons and powerful currents make such intensive treatment unnecessary. Bradley became mayor in 1973 and since then his Administration and the City Council have pressed for a waiver from the requirement. The Environmental Protection Agency has tentatively approved such an exemption, but no final decision has been made.
In repeated testimony before state agencies, representatives of the Public Works Department, headed by a Bradley-appointed board, have asked that Los Angeles be allowed to comply with the less-stringent requirements of the California Ocean Plan. It would require that the city provide secondary treatment for 63% of its sewage in five years.
In his letter to Grossman, Bradley said Los Angeles needs financial help to meet the tougher federal standards.
He proposed that this be done by changing the California Ocean Plan. By making it require full secondary treatment, as federal law does, Los Angeles and other cities would become eligible for a combination of federal and state aid. That aid is now denied them because of a formula based on whether state standards meet federal standards.