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Sewage Spill Closes Beaches

Health: Surfers, others complain about the lengthy delay before warnings are issued.


A sewage spill was blamed Monday for the shutdown of beaches from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach. But it is the closure-notification system that some were complaining stinks to high heaven.

Surfers, boaters and divers said they were never warned that 1.4 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into Ballona Creek, Marina del Rey and the ocean Friday night and much of the day Saturday, making the waters unsafe for human contact.

Los Angeles County health officials said they will determine late today whether the sewage has been diluted enough to allow the reopening of 9 1/2 miles of beachfront between Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica and 28th Street in Manhattan Beach.

"The water smelled bad and tasted worse," grumbled Brent Bye, 28, who surfed north of the Venice pier Sunday and Monday. He learned of the spill from a reporter.

"Nobody said anything. Yesterday the lifeguard boat went right by a bunch of us and never warned us. I'm going home right now to shower and pour rubbing alcohol in my ears. And I'm going to spit a lot on the way home."

The sewage spill was caused by a power failure Friday at a Los Angeles waste-water pumping plant that is being enlarged to handle future toilet flows from the new Playa Vista residential and commercial development.

Because of the plant construction, power backup and alarm systems were not in operation and the failure went unnoticed for 15 hours. An additional 12 hours passed before Los Angeles sanitation officials notified county health workers. And as many as 10 more hours went by before county lifeguards closed beaches in the Marina del Rey and El Segundo areas.

On Monday the closure zone was extended south to Manhattan Beach and north to Santa Monica. But many beach-goers complained that they never got word of any of it.

Surfers assumed that "Beach Closed" signs on the sand were left over from last week's rain. Stormy weather routinely triggers beach closures.

Barry Berggren, a city sanitation manager, said the pumping plant failure occurred when a car crash knocked down electric lines near a sewage pump station at 5550 Inglewood Blvd. at 6:05 p.m. Friday. The power outage lasted only 20 minutes, but it was enough to shut down the plant's pumps.

City officials learned of the pumping plant's shutdown at 9:30 a.m. Saturday when passersby on four nearby streets noticed raw sewage pouring out of manholes and gushing into storm drains. It took about six hours to determine the source and scope of the problem, Berggren said.

Richard Kebabjian, a county health services manager, said his agency was informed of the spill at about 9:30 p.m. Saturday. He said officials had received no reports Monday of anyone becoming sick because of the sewage--which he said was rapidly being diluted by the ocean.

County lifeguard Capt. Chris Linkletter said lifeguards are instructed to advise swimmers and surfers of sewage spill hazards. She said one place at the marina--Mother's Beach--was posted as closed.

That's not enough, said Mark Gold, head of the Heal the Bay environmental group.

"It's absolutely reprehensible that the public was not informed," Gold said.


Times staff writer Kenneth R. Weiss contributed to this report.

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