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Malibu Battles 60% Expansion of Sewage Plant

April 21, 1988|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

Malibu residents are fighting expansion of a sewage treatment plant that sends recycled San Fernando Valley sewage water down Malibu Creek and into their community.

"We do not want your effluent," Leon Cooper, Malibu Township Council president, said at a hearing Monday night on the proposed 60% expansion of the Tapia Sewage Treatment Plant. "We in Malibu see no benefit to be associated with the current plant or its expansion."

The hearing was held by two water boards that represent fast-growing western Valley and eastern Ventura County areas just across the Santa Monica Mountains from Malibu.

Officials of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District and Triunfo County Sanitation District have proposed the Tapia expansion and construction of a large sludge-processing plant on Las Virgenes Road across from the new Lost Hills subdivision. The increase is needed to accommodate a population that consultants say will swell from 70,000 today to 140,000 by 2020 and eventually to 190,000.

Series of Plants Expected

A network of small satellite plants in Malibu, Agoura, Calabasas and eastern Ventura County will also be needed to eventually handle waste water from new homes among the hills and canyons of the central Santa Monica Mountains watershed, officials say.

At Monday's hearing on the environmental impact of the Tapia expansion, speakers from Malibu, five miles downstream, and from Monte Nido, a community near the plant, threatened court action to block the expansion unless solutions are found to existing problems by June 6, when the Las Virgenes board is scheduled to vote on the proposal.

Treated water from the 22-year-old Tapia plant, which was plagued until 1981 by a series of leaks and floods that swept millions of gallons of raw sewage down Malibu Creek, still produces musty odors and provides a year-round supply of water that allows ornery black flies to breed, speakers said. Without the water, the creek would run dry in the summer and the flies would die out, they added.

Although the environmental report on the project said the plant does not harm water quality in Malibu Creek, speakers insisted that the treated water has degraded ecologically important Malibu Lagoon, which is fed by the creek.

'Killing the Area'

Scott Hubbell, a Malibu lifeguard, offered an emotional plea for a halt to discharges into Malibu Creek.

"It doesn't take a scientist to see that you're killing the area," he said. Tapia's water treatment is "not working now and it's breaking my heart," he said.

Malibu tree surgeon Ron Hayes asked board members: "Is putting treated waste water down Malibu Creek the highest use of that land? No. Give that land back to people's souls."

Though they didn't respond during the hearing, water officials said in interviews that Tapia waste water has met state drinking-water standards since a sophisticated three-stage filtering system was installed in 1984. There have been no accidental sewage releases since 1981, they said.

William Ruff, superintendent at Tapia, said water dumped into the creek is actually cleaner than water in the winding, tree-lined creek before it reaches the plant.

Officials Cite Stiff Regulations

"This is not a pristine mountain creek," he said. "It's an urban creek with runoff from farmland and fertilizer from everybody's lawns."

Las Virgenes board President Ann Dorgelo said Monday: "Concerns about discharging raw sewage show me that there are people who need to be a little bit more educated about our treatment plant. We're regulated up the kazoo."

But Dorgelo said the hearing raised issues that will require further investigation.

In particular, the link between waste water and black-fly reproduction must be determined and the water board must find a solution to access problems facing homeowners in the Cross Creek area at the base of Malibu Canyon, she said. Cross Creek residents have difficulty crossing the creek bed to reach their homes when water is high.

Attorney John Murdock, representing canyon homeowners, warned the boards that those two problems could kill the expansion.

Faults, Hazardous Chemicals

Other homeowners said they are concerned about expanding Tapia's capacity from 10 million gallons per day to 16.1 million gallons because it is near an earthquake fault.

The plant's storage of chlorine and sulfur dioxide, liquids that become lethal gas when exposed to air, also brought requests for more information and for an emergency evacuation plan. The expansion proposal calls for storing the same amount of chemicals on site, although more would have to used in the treatment process, water officials said.

Some homeowner complaints heard this week echoed those that have been raised at hearings since 1966 as Tapia has been expanded in stages to 20 times its original size. In the late 1970s, slow-growth advocates in Agoura and Calabasas argued that the Las Virgenes water district should limit expansion as a way of controlling home construction.

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