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Slowly but Surely Cleaning Up the Bay : Chevron voluntarily ends dumping; now county and city must do better

February 07, 1993

The decision last week by Chevron USA Products Co., the refining and marketing arm of oil giant Chevron Corp., to stop daily dumping of treated refinery waste into Santa Monica Bay removes the last major source of industrial pollution from the bay's swimming areas. Now Los Angeles County and city need to do a better job in acting to end the polluting of the bay with waste that humans generate.

Chevron has been discharging into Santa Monica Bay since the 1920s, long before state and federal legislation required it and other dischargers to obtain permits and comply with health standards for ocean dumping. At present, Chevron's El Segundo oil refinery is the only discharger that dumps into the bay's "near-shore waters," pumping out 7.9 million gallons of chemical-filled waste water daily. Many environmentalists view this as a health threat to the 500,000 people who swim or surf in the area each year. Chevron's discharge permit was renewed in 1992, but environmental groups appealed the renewal, arguing that it violated state laws protecting recreational use of the ocean.

The company announced Thursday that it will voluntarily extend its waste water pipeline to two-thirds of a mile from the beach within a year. Refinery discharge that far out in Santa Monica Bay will not affect recreational beach users and should lead to a significant improvement in the health of the bay.

That leaves two major sources of bay pollution. Last June, the City of Los Angeles opened a sewer leading from the Crenshaw district to the Hyperion Treatment Plant near Playa del Rey, which processes storm drain runoff and household sewage. Because extensive improvements to the Hyperion plant have not been completed, the plant could not handle the huge quantity of waste water generated by last month's heavy rains. So sanitation officials were forced to close the new sewer and dump 6.5 million gallons of partially treated sewage into Ballona Creek, closing beaches from Pacific Palisades to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The new sewer should be reopened next summer.

A bigger polluter is the county's Carson Sewage Treatment Plant, which dumps about 300 million gallons daily into the ocean at Palos Verdes. Environmentalists contend that the plant needs major upgrades to fully comply with the Clean Water Act. This rainy winter and the scary prospect of more beach closings next summer should prompt the county to act.

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