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Officials Outline Cure for Aliso Beach Pollution

August 03, 1994|LEN HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAGUNA BEACH — Water officials disclosed Tuesday that they will propose a natural remedy to the pollution that has caused popular Aliso Beach to be closed frequently over the decades. The cost could be $1 million.

At a meeting today, the Laguna Beach-based South Coast Water District will recommend building catch basins of native plants along Aliso Creek to trap and filter damaging spills before they reach the ocean, said Michael Dunbar, district general manager.

The 12-mile creek, which starts near Cooks Corner in Trabuco Canyon and meanders southwest to Aliso Beach, has experienced an increasing number of harmful spills--sewage and urban runoff--over the years that reach the sea and force beach closures.

The most recent happened June 20, when 16,000 gallons of partially treated sewage dumped into the creek reached the ocean and caused county health officials to bar public use of the beach for three days. So far in 1994 alone, the beach has been closed for 16 days because of pollution problems in the creek.

"From a water quality standpoint, the creek is a continuous problem with high bacterial counts every day of the year," Dunbar said. "The only reason it does not affect the beaches even more often is it is diluted by the ocean water."

He described the catch basins as a "great concept," adding, "we can deal with the pollution in the creek, in most cases, before it gets to the public beach."

Costs of the proposal, which Dunbar estimated at up to $1 million, would be shared by the county and the six other districts that, with South Coast, make up the Aliso Water Management Agency.

The South Coast district operates a sewage treatment plant for the agency along Aliso Creek, about a mile inland from Aliso Beach.

"The sewer agencies are part of the problem but not the total problem," Dunbar said. "Urban runoff into the creek has been increasing over the years along with the development of the area."

Laguna Beach Mayor Ann Christoph said Tuesday that although she was only vaguely familiar with the South Coast proposal, she was happy that solutions were being sought. The city of Laguna Beach is a member of the water agency.

"I think it's certainly worth exploring and it's a step in the right direction," Christoph said. "We have a very bad problem. . . . If this is going to help clean (the creek) up, we should look at it very seriously."

The catch basins would have to be designed so they "fit the appearance of the creek," Christoph said.

Dunbar said the proposal calls for at least two catch basins, including a 10-acre marsh on county land about three miles inland from Aliso Beach, and a smaller basin, of about four acres, in Aliso Canyon on the ocean side of the treatment plant.

The larger site is in Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park on land formerly reserved for a national fitness center promoted in the 1980s by the late football coach George Allen, Dunbar said.

The basins would use native plants that naturally filter harmful substances from the creek, Dunbar said. The Mission Valley Treatment Center in San Diego County uses a similar system, he said.

The meeting today in which the plan will be discussed is being held by the Aliso Water Management Agency.

Trapping Sewage

A South Coast Water District proposal would build catch basins along Aliso Creek to trap sewage before it reaches the ocean. The project could cost up to $1 million.

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