Los Angeles County officials are determined to remove all septic systems from hillside homes in the landslide areas of Malibu, even though they have yet to come up with an alternative waste-water system for the sites.
Brian Scanlon, county sewer maintenance superintendent, said Tuesday night that although "it's nearly impossible" to tell whether the water in the unstable hills comes from rain, landscaping irrigation or leaky septic tanks, the county believes that private waste-water systems are the prime source of rising ground-water tables in slide areas.
"Certainly the county will entertain alternative systems, but the main contention is that we want to get the septic system effluent out of the soil," Scanlon said. "The possibility of letting septic tanks go on forever and ever in the area--well, I just don't think the county will ever go for that."
The county is trying to reduce its liability in the landslide areas of Malibu such as Big Rock Mesa and Rambla Pacifico. The county and the state face up to 200 slide-related lawsuits that could add up to a liability of $200 to $500 million. The lawsuits accuse the county and the state of responsibility for a massive 1983 landslide that was fueled by rising ground water.
Parts of the landslide are still moving, according to a geologist's report commissioned by the county last year.
Earlier Tuesday, county public works officials forwarded a plan to the Board of Supervisors that recommends restricting building permits in hillside areas "or areas of known geologic hazards" unless the sites can pass a geologic inspection.
The report also recommends drafting an ordinance that would ban home sales in Malibu until experts can certify that the property's septic system works properly.
Scanlon's remarks were made at a meeting of a subcommittee of the Malibu citizens sewer committee appointed by county supervisors to come up with alternative ways to treat waste water in the coastal community. The county's liability in landslide areas was cited as a prime reason for the need to build an $86-million sewer system in Malibu, but supervisors balked at the plan after more than 1,000 angry homeowners and developers turned out to oppose it.
Although the county has installed expensive pumping systems to remove water from the Big Rock area, many of the pumps have failed, and officials say it makes no sense to attempt to take out the water as long as the septic systems continue to leak water back into the hillsides.
The subcommittee had asked the county to send a geologist to speak to the panel about landslides in Malibu, but the county declined, saying that it could not address specific problems because of pending litigation.
Meanwhile, Scanlon said that the county still hopes to be able to tap into the City of Los Angeles' Hyperion plant to treat sewage from the Topanga Canyon area sometime after 1991.
As part of its planned $86-million regional sewer system, the county had planned to connect the area to the city sewer system and divert up to 300,000 gallons of waste per day from the currently undeveloped Topanga Canyon area.
However, Mayor Tom Bradley, acknowledging that the city's sewers are near the breaking point, announced an emergency plan to curtail water use and restrict the number of new sewer connection permits.
Scanlon said that the county likely would be allowed to connect with the system after 1991 when the city completes its $2.3-billion program to upgrade its sewer system, adding that any plan to tap into the system before that would probably be rejected by the City Council.
The committee and county departments investigating alternative sewage systems in Malibu are scheduled to deliver their recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on April 1.