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Orange County

Laguna Gets EPA Grant for Sewers

Pollution: With nearly $1 million in aid, the beach city will start repairs soon after a systemwide inspection.

November 08, 2001|CHRISTINE HANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has earmarked nearly $1 million to help Laguna Beach fix its aging sewer system, enabling the city to begin repairs to leaking pipes that pose the greatest risk of causing ocean pollution.

Combined with city matching funds, the EPA grant leaves Laguna Beach with $1.8 million to replace or reline the oldest sections of the city's 90-mile system, some of which are 50 years old.

"This is an enormous boost to help renovate our sewer system," City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said. "This is perfect timing. The lines that are the worst we will be able to repair almost immediately."

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who requested the money on the city's behalf, said that the grant signals a recognition by the EPA that many coastal communities cannot afford to shoulder the full costs of fixing their crumbling infrastructures.

It comes several months after the EPA launched a review of sewage collection systems in 25 coastal cities in Southern California to determine whether the Clean Water Act is being violated. Officials said the examination was sparked by several highly publicized beach closures caused by leaking sewage and urban runoff.

Cox said he expects the federal government will soon make more funds available to other local cities trying to improve their sewer systems.

"We've had a number of spills in recent years," he said."And this is welcome recognition that our aging sewer lines are a threat to our oceans."

Sewer leaks are considered the second most common cause of beach pollution. The main culprit is urban runoff, the mix of lawn fertilizer, pet waste, motor oil and other contaminants that are swept off lawns and streets into waterways.

A report released in August by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the number of beach closures in California and across the nation nearly doubled last year, a jump attributed primarily to more stringent testing of recreational waters.

Laguna Beach, a city of 25,000 that attracts 3 million tourists a year, was hit last year with a $60,000 fine for a string of 23 spills that closed beaches for 29 days during an 18-month period. Since then, the city and many of its coastal neighbors began moving on several fronts to reduce beach pollution.

Laguna Beach has increased street sweeping and is moving forward with a controversial plan that would require all its restaurants to install costly grease interceptor devices. The interceptors prevent grease from clogging sewers.

The city is now in the process of videotaping its entire sewer system to pinpoint problem areas. Taping is not expected to be done until at least December.

Frank said the EPA grant will come just as the city figures out where it needs to make the fastest fixes.

The city isn't sure how much the entire project will cost. But Frank said the city plans to use the $1.8 million to place protective lining inside the most eroded pipes.

"There will be several miles of sewer lines we'll be able to fix with that money," he said.

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