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Sewage Has Beach-Goers Crying Foul : * Closures Such as the One Near Aliso Pier Due to Broken Pipeline Are All Too Familiar

March 29, 1992

Will closed beaches in Orange County due to sewage spills become a regular thing that we simply must accept? Most people would like to think not, but the news from the vicinity of popular Aliso Beach has not been encouraging as the March sun slowly warms and suggests summer to come.

The Aliso Water Management Agency says that the reopening of the beach is near. Repairs are expected by early this week, but until they are completed, fractures in the pipeline that carries 18 million gallons of treated sewage daily to the ocean are causing about 100,000 gallons daily to spew into the waters near Aliso Pier. The agency at first had trouble predicting how long exactly it would take to fix the pipe because engineers needed time to find out what the problem was--whether it came from a lack of support or from wave action. The assumption was that the leaks were related to the Feb. 12 storm that flooded Aliso Creek. But the agency expressed confusion because the pipe was beneath a bed of rock and five feet of sand, and was thought secure. It took a television camera inserted into the pipe upstream to reveal hairline fractures and breaks in the joints.

The leaks were discovered more than a month ago and the County Health Care Agency's environmental health division closed a half-mile stretch of popular Aliso Beach for what initially was thought to be a short period.

But the beach still is closed, and here is a pipe that officials thought was well protected. It appears to have been more vulnerable than even the experts thought. And the agency expressed concern in recent weeks about what further damage might be wrought by other storms. So while people's fingers were crossed, it is worth asking now whether the rest of the pipe is up to par.

The agency put the best spin on events by saying that much of the waste was still being carried on through the pipe, and that only a small percentage was leaking. But that wasn't consolation for Lynn Ito of San Juan Capistrano, who recently kept her children out of the water and told a reporter that "it's a shame that you can't just pick up and go to a safe beach anymore."

The agency says there is no plan either to consider a backup pipe that would allow the primary line to be shut down in an emergency. But without such a backup, it is doubly incumbent on those operating the pipeline to ensure that it really is up to the assigned job--at the risk of putting the ocean off-limits to those who come to the water's edge.

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