A sewage spill near the San Diego Freeway prompted Los Angeles County health officials Tuesday to close almost four miles of beaches between Venice and Imperial Highway at El Segundo as a precautionary measure in the event polluted water reached the ocean through flood control channels.
About 100,000 gallons of sewage escaped Monday night from an Inglewood pumping station into the Centinela concrete channel, but sandbagging efforts kept all but about 1,000 gallons from leaking into Ballona Creek and flowing to the ocean, health officials said.
County health technicians were analyzing the bacteria count along the beaches and said that a decision to reopen the popular swimming areas could be made as soon as today.
"We were really fortunate we were able to get almost all of it," said John Redner, the county's sewer superintendent, who oversaw sandbagging operations in Centinela Creek.
The sewage reached the channel just a few minutes after six county workers had piled 800 50-pound bags at the channel's edge at about 10:15 p.m., he said. The sewage flowed from the nearby Vesta Street sewer pumping station in Inglewood, which was knocked out of commission at 6:22 p.m. by an electrical power failure.
"The water surged and we could smell it," Redner said.
Responsibility for closing the beaches on Tuesday--a sunny, warm day--fell to county health official Jack Petralia, who said he was warned about the spill at 9:30 p.m. Monday.
Because the spill appeared to be relatively minor, Petralia said he was "tempted" not to take any action. But at 8 a.m. Tuesday, as a "precautionary measure," he called the county Department of Beaches and Harbors and ordered that agency to instruct lifeguards to post yellow sandwich-board signs on the beach. They read: "Beach Closed: Avoid Water Contact."
Some local residents were angry Tuesday morning that it had taken more than 10 hours for Petralia to make his decision.
"Why wasn't the beach closed early this morning before people started swimming in the water?" asked Venice resident Vince Desmond, 48, who said he swims at the beach every morning.
Petralia, who directs the county Department of Health Services' environmental protection bureau, said that given experience with leaks, sewage takes far longer than 10 hours for the fouled water to reach the ocean.
May Take Days
"It could be days," he said, before the approximately 1,000 gallons of sewage that escaped reaches the ocean.
By the time an alarm alerted officials to the spill Monday night, a portion of the county sewer system had already backed up and sewage was gushing out of manhole covers just north of where La Cienega crosses the San Diego Freeway, about 40 feet from the pumping plant. From that point, the sewage flowed into Centinela Creek.
Ironically, Avila said, the Vesta Street plant is one of six county sewage pumping plants scheduled to receive emergency power equipment that would have prevented a spill like the one that occurred Monday night. But delivery of that equipment is still two months away, he said.
Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this story.