LAGUNA BEACH — Main Beach will remain closed for at least a couple of days after an estimated 4,000 gallons of raw sewage on Tuesday spilled into a Laguna Canyon flood channel that empties into the ocean.
The beach will remain off-limits pending results of water quality tests by the Orange County Health Department, Laguna Beach City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said.
The spill occurred about 11 a.m. as city workers were repairing a main sewer line near the Irvine Bowl in Laguna Beach. It is estimated that 200 gallons of sewage per minute flowed into the channel for 20 minutes.
"The sewage just came right in while they were working," Frank said. "We just couldn't stop it in time, there was so much sewage backed up."
Signs were posted at Main Beach about 1 p.m., but Frank said the waters were already sullied as a result of increased storm drain runoff, which includes fertilizer, motor oil and animal waste.
A health department advisory issued Dec. 23 warned swimmers that bacteria levels can rise significantly for as many as three days after storms.
"As a practical matter, the sewage is nothing because of the stuff that's already in there because of the rain," he said. "People shouldn't have been swimming anyway."
The spill resulted after a failed attempt to redirect sewage around a part of the main sewer trunk, which inspectors recently discovered had partially collapsed and clogged.
Hoping to head off a spill, city workers tried bypassing the clogged area by installing plugs and using portable pumps to divert the sewage flow, the statement said.
But a buildup in pressure dislodged one of the plugs, sending the sewage down the channel and into the ocean. Repairs are continuing at the site but the city will use a larger pump to handle the sewage flow, the statement said.