Underground sleuths have been sniffing around the Pico Kenter Storm Drain, trying to discover the origin of diesel fuel that has flowed from the drain onto the Santa Monica beach at least five times in the past three weeks, causing beachgoers to complain of odors and resulting in temporary closure of the beach from Pico Boulevard to Santa Monica Pier.
Jack Hoagland, administrative water engineer for Santa Monica, said workers from the county Department of Public Works entered the drain at various points searching for the smelly fuel with their best available tool--their noses. They also used meters to measure the fumes.
Hoagland said last week that the county inspectors had not found where the fuel was entering the drain or who was responsible for spills on Aug. 28, 29 and 30 and Sept. 10 and 11.
The task is immense, Hoagland said, because the drain is nine miles long and numerous other drains empty into it. By the time the noxious material reaches the surf and authorities begin their search, most of the material inside the drain has disappeared, he said.
The underground portion of the drain, which is fully enclosed, begins just below Sunset Boulevard at Bundy Boulevard, passing through Los Angeles and Santa Monica and emptying onto the beach at Pico. Hoagland said the fuel may be from illegal dumping or could be seepage from underground storage tanks. The city has strict regulations on use of the tanks, Hoagland said, but they have not been eliminated as a possible source.
Roslyn Dobson, spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works, said that underground leaks would not enter the flood control channel unless the material somehow got onto the streets and was washed into catch basins.
Hoagland said the problem is frustrating.
"We don't know what else to do. The only other thing to do is station people at each catch basin," Hoagland said. But there are about 1,200 basins.
Lt. Tom Viren of the county lifeguards said that even though the main lifeguard tower is two blocks from the drain outlet, the fumes are irritating.
"We figure if the odor gets any worse we are all going to go around with scuba masks and tanks. I don't mean for going in the water, I mean when we are breathing on land," Viren said.