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The Region

EPA May Tighten O.C.'s Sewage-Dumping Rules

June 20, 2002|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal officials proposed Wednesday adding strict conditions to a permit that allows Orange County to dump partially treated sewage into the ocean. The change, which would require the district to put bleach in all waste water, would take effect in August.

Under the proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, water quality would be monitored from the beach to three miles offshore, and from the water surface to the ocean floor. The county agency's current permit requires monitoring only 10 feet deep and three miles out for pollution caused by the 243 million gallons of sewage that the district pumps into the ocean every day.

The changes would provide "more stringent protections," said Robyn Stuber, an environmental scientist for the EPA. She noted that the EPA can modify a permit at any time.

The state Water Board, which regulates the sanitation district, will meet July 19 to consider the permit changes. The sanitation district can appeal the decision, but such action is unlikely, officials said Wednesday. If the changes are adopted, the district will start using chlorine bleach Aug. 12 to disinfect its waste water.

"We welcome these modifications," said Robert P. Ghirelli, director of technical services for the sanitation district. "We wanted to take the extra step."

The district has had the permit since 1998, but laws passed since then set a higher purity standard for waste water pumped into the ocean. A waiver that expires next year allows the agency to discharge water that is more polluted than the national standard. The district has said it has not yet decided whether to seek renewal of the waiver. Several Orange County cities are opposed to an extension, among them Huntington Beach, which has suffered frequent shoreline closures because of high bacterial counts in the water.

Though adding bleach to waste water will cost the sanitation district more than $8 million a year, that is still cheaper than building facilities that would provide secondary sewage treatment and would bring the district more in line with the national standard.

Environmental activist Doug Korthof said the chlorine remedy aims to divert attention from the district's decision on whether to apply for renewal of its waiver and helps it skirt responsibility for a sewage plume off Newport Beach.

A problem with chlorination is that it can cause toxic hydrocarbon mixes and also does not kill viruses, "which can stay viable for much longer than bacteria," he said. "And some bacteria encapsulated in grease and oil has remained live for 20 years off Santa Monica."

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