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Projects to Help Stem Santa Monica Bay Pollution

Pollution: Several decontamination and trash-screening facilities will help cleanse runoff.

November 03, 2001|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Engineers said Friday they will spend $2.5 million in state funds to ease contamination of Santa Monica Bay from septic tank and storm drain runoff in Malibu and Santa Monica.

Malibu leaders will finish building a trouble-plagued decontamination station at the Malibu Lagoon and construct two more aimed at sanitizing street runoff and septic system leakage from the Malibu Colony movie star enclave and the city's Civic Center area.

Santa Monica officials will develop an underground trash-screening system on the east side of the city to prevent debris from being washed through storm drains into Ballona Creek.

Ballona Creek--which carries street runoff from much of Los Angeles--and the Malibu Lagoon empty into the ocean and are considered primary polluters of Santa Monica Bay.

At about $1.75 million, the Malibu project will be linked to a previously announced $667,000 study of bacteria leakage from privately owned septic tanks near the lagoon.

Announcement of the projects was made at a ceremony organized by the state's Integrated Waste Management Board on the beach next to the Malibu Lagoon.

Malibu leaders said their three water-cleansing stations also will screen out litter as runoff is sanitized as it flows into the lagoon.

The $1.2-million Santa Monica debris-collecting station will be built under a street near Pico Boulevard and Centinela Avenue.

As about 60 state and municipal officials nibbled on fish tacos at a beach luncheon kicking off the anti-pollution projects, there was nearby evidence of how difficult such cleanups can be.

Technicians about 300 yards away still were laboring to get Malibu's first runoff-sanitizing station to work. The $340,000 high-tech filtration system, purchased in 1999, is supposed to kill bacteria and viruses using a combination of ultraviolet light and ozone. Similar sanitizing technology is used in the food-packaging industry.

But design flaws, coupled with internal problems at the company that was manufacturing the equipment, have delayed its use on street runoff and seepage from the Malibu Colony residential area. An Illinois-based firm has taken over and is trying to get the tool shed-size filtration station to work properly.

Members of the Santa Monica and Malibu city councils joined state Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Encino) in praising the ocean cleanup.

But no one in the crowd was happier than Ann Dorgelo, who lives 10 miles inland in Agoura Hills. She is a director of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which operates the Tapia sewage treatment plant in Calabasas, five miles upstream from the lagoon.

For more than two decades, Malibu residents have blamed lagoon contamination on the sewage plant. But the treatment plant's name wasn't even mentioned Friday. "I think their thinking is changing," a smiling Dorgelo said.

Malibu City Engineer Rick Morgan said the sewage plant plays a role at the lagoon only during the winter months, when the plant is allowed to discharge treated effluent into Malibu Creek. That water pushes dirty lagoon water through a sandy beach berm and into the ocean. There, the contaminated lagoon water can endanger surfers.

Morgan said Malibu is tightening its rules for septic tanks for commercial buildings and multiple-family dwellings to require higher-quality, disinfecting systems. But there are no plans to install a municipal sewer system in town. Fears that a sewer system would be built and then lead to increased development helped prompt Malibu residents to incorporate as an independent city 10 years ago.

Craig Perkins, director of environmental and public works management for Santa Monica, said the Pico-Centinela trash filter will be his city's second ocean cleanup initiative. A sophisticated debris-catching, water-sanitizing station for storm drain runoff was opened in April near the Santa Monica Pier.

The first of its kind in the United States, the $10-million plant will provide reclaimed water for landscape irrigation and toilet-flushing at several new Santa Monica developments, Perkins said.

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