State regulators charged with protecting heavily used Santa Monica Bay from pollution on Monday fined the city of Los Angeles $10,000--a relatively minor amount--and asked the state attorney general to further investigate a recent spate of sewage spills.
The state Regional Water Quality Control Board, which met in Los Angeles, could have imposed a far more substantial penalty on the city. But the board's members apparently accepted the city's argument that the sewage spills, and the failure to report some the incidents as required by law, were unavoidable.
Since May 25, a series of breakdowns at the Hyperion treatment plant near El Segundo have led to the diversion of 18 million to 24 million gallons of treated effluent through a pipeline one mile out to sea, instead of the usual five miles. The state regulators chose to look only at two spills that the city was late reporting to authorities.
The $10,000 fine was imposed for the city's failure to report a minor spill of 30,000 gallons that entered the ocean June 6 without chlorination, which is usually added to effluent released only a mile from shore. The spill went unreported for 10 days until inadvertently discovered by city officials in a review of charts.
Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp was asked to study further why that spill and another from Hyperion on May 25--which the city said discharged from 3 million to 9 million gallons of effluent--were not immediately reported.
Also on Monday, the state board asked Van de Kamp to look at a major spill of raw sewage into the Venice canals after a June 5 electrical storm. The storm knocked out power to a Venice pumping plant and caused 2.4 million gallons of untreated sewage to flow into a canal and out to the bay. Very high levels of bacteria were noted on nearby beaches for the next three days.
The public was not made aware of the spill's magnitude for several days, leading to protests from local residents and elected officials on the Westside.
The state board's decision not to impose heavy fines was hailed by city officials, who had argued that the spills, while regretful, may recur until renovation of the aging Hyperion plant is completed in the early 1990s. Lawyers for the city said workers have been strongly reminded to report all spills promptly.
"I am not displeased that they have referred this to the attorney general," said Chris Westhoff, a deputy city attorney who helped represent the city.
A spokesman for Van de Kamp had no comment Monday, but the attorney general will have the option of seeking civil penalties against the city in court or dropping the matter.