Sections of Aliso Beach may remain closed through the upcoming Independence Day weekend because of a sewage pipeline break that dumped more than 900,000 gallons of raw effluent into the surf, a county health official said Monday.
Water officials, meanwhile, announced that they will replace a 450-foot length of the aging concrete pipe that ruptured last week, spilling the sewage into Aliso Creek before temporary repairs could be made.
A mile-long stretch of Aliso Beach remained closed Monday for the fifth straight day. Signs were posted warning of contaminated water, and lifeguards continued to turn away beach-goers.
The spill was the largest to hit the county in about a year and the third in Aliso Creek in 1989, officials said. Spills from other pipes crossing beneath the creek bed dumped 170,000 gallons in January and 300,000 gallons in March.
Mike Wehner, chief of the county Health Department's water-quality program, said sunny weather and heavy surf could help speed the dissipation of sewage along the popular beachfront, but he could not predict whether the entire strand would be open by the July 4 weekend.
"We expect portions to be opened, but we don't know if we'll see the entire area opened," he said. "At this point, it's too tough to call. We can hope, but we won't know for sure for a while."
Tests conducted Friday showed extensive contamination along the beach from Treasure Island Point on the northwest to Table Rock on the southeast. Further tests were performed today, with preliminary results expected today, Wehner said.
Outlying parts of the spill will probably be the first areas removed from the quarantine, he said, with the area near the creek's mouth the last to reopen.
Effects of Swallowed Water
Health officials said swallowing water contaminated by untreated effluent can cause stomach and intestinal ailments with flulike symptoms.
The 21-inch sewage line, built in 1953, ruptured Thursday, causing effluent to spill into Aliso Creek and flow into the ocean just northwest of the fishing pier before crews hired by the South Coast Water District could repair the break.
Ray Miller, the district's general manager, said those repairs amounted to a temporary patching.
After discussing alternatives during a meeting Monday, agency officials agreed that more extensive work is needed to ensure that other sections of the pipe do not burst, he said.
"To just go in there and replace the area that's fractured would put us in a position where a year or maybe two years down the line, another section would fail," Miller said.
The agency took steps Monday to get an emergency permit from the state Coastal Commission for replacement of the pipe along a 450-foot stretch from a beach parking lot east of Coast Highway, beneath the bed of Aliso Creek and up to a pump station that sends the sewage to a treatment plant near the Laguna Beach Country Club.
Once the permit is issued, the work should take about two weeks and $200,000 to $300,000 to perform, said Miller, who noted that the agency has money alloted for such emergencies.
He expressed hope that the sewage would disperse in the surf by the weekend but noted that there has been little opportunity for residents to visit the beach in recent days anyway, because of construction already taking place in a parking lot and on a nearby highway bridge. The pier is also closed for repair. "The sewage spill added to the problem, but really the beach wasn't being used anyway," Miller said.