Polluted storm-drain runoff, which now forms pools on two Westside beaches, may be diverted to other storm drains that empty closer to the ocean, under a plan approved recently by a task force of local government officials.
Officials from the county and the cities of Santa Monica and Los Angeles earlier this month agreed on the plan, which they said would lessen human contact with the runoff, but the two city councils and the county supervisors must approve it.
Runoff from the Pico Boulevard and Santa Monica Canyon drains now spills onto Santa Monica and Will Rogers state beaches, where the liquid forms pools before running into the ocean.
Children sometimes play in the water, despite signs the county Health Services Department posted last summer warning beachgoers of the danger.
The source of the pollution is unclear, but it could be human or animal waste, garden fertilizer, leaky sewer lines or a combination of factors, according to Don Nichols, an engineer with the county Department of Public Works.
Exposure to such pollutants can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, although no cases linked to the storm drains have been reported, health officials said.
Under the task force plan, the runoff would be pumped from the Pico and Santa Monica Canyon drains to two other drains that spill just a few feet from the ocean, thereby lessening the opportunity for human contact, according to Tom Brady, a deputy to Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude.
The runoff is heavily diluted once its reaches the ocean and no longer poses a health hazard, said Brady, a task force member.
Runoff from the Pico drain would be pumped several blocks south to a drain that empties into the ocean at the base of Ashland Avenue, and the Santa Monica Canyon drain would be diverted north to Potrero Canyon.
Task force members disagree on who should pay for the work.
Stanley Scholl, Santa Monica's director of general services, has recommended dividing the estimated $300,000 cost of the Pico project among the county and the cities os Santa Monica and Los Angeles.
He said the county should pay one-third because it operates the storm drains, Los Angeles should pay one-third because about half of the drainage comes from that city, and Santa Monica should pay one-third because the drain empties in that city.
Nichols, the engineer for the county, said he agrees with the payment plan.
But Los Angeles city engineer Robert Horii has said that his city should not share in the cost of the project. Horii said Santa Monica should pay for one-third and the county the remaining two-thirds.
The councils in both cities and the county Board of Supervisors will eventually have to approve a payment system.
Pollution levels in the drains are highest during the summer when there is little dilution from rainwater. The polluted runoff would be diverted during these so-called "low-flow" periods, officials said.
Braude first publicized the storm drain problem last summer after county test results revealed that water at the Pico, Santa Monica Canyon and Pulga Canyon storm drains contained many times the allowable level of organic pollution.
Task force members have decided that the Pulga Canyon drain, south of Sunset Boulevard, empties close enough to the surf so that it does not present a health hazard to beachgoers.
City and county officials considered other solutions to the pollution problem, including treating the runoff before it reaches the ocean. That would have been too expensive, Brady said.
"But the least we can do is try to eliminate a . . . nuisance," he said. "You have kids playing in these channels during dry and sunny weather. Children should not be playing in water with all this junk in it."
The projects are not likely to be completed in time for summer, however, because time is needed for planning and securing bids.