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Laguna Ordered to Fix Its Sewers

Environment: The EPA wants steps taken to halt spills that have polluted beaches, but also praises the city for what it's already done.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday ordered Laguna Beach to take immediate steps to halt sewage spills that have polluted local beaches. The city has one of the worst records in California, the agency said.

But officials of the federal agency described the order as a formality, making a point of praising the city for measures it has already taken, and the millions of dollars it already has spent, to reduce sewage spills.

The move comes less than two months after the EPA awarded the city $873,000 to help meet the no-spill mandate of the federal Clean Water Act.

"City officials are aware of the problem and have already been taking steps to solve it," EPA regional administrator Wayne Nastri said in a written statement. "They have made a bold commitment to ending sewage discharges, and we applaud them for all they've done and continue to do. Our action simply commits the city to carry out their planned sewer system improvements."

EPA spokesman Mark Merchant added, "This is just a formal step. We're not fining them, we're not doing anything special. This just puts down on paper in the form of an agreement what Laguna already told us they're going to do."

The agency also on Thursday ordered the city of Carpinteria to stop spills. These are the first orders of their kind in the region, though the agency is investigating another half-dozen California cities.

Portions of Laguna Beach's crumbling 95-mile network of pipes and other infrastructure date to the 1930s.

Between July 1, 1997, and June 30, the city reported 64 sewage spills, nearly a third of which flowed into local waterways and closed picturesque beaches. The order requires the city to complete a sewage spill-reduction action plan by March. The plan must include a sewer-system cleaning and root-control program; a pipe inspection and assessment; a repair and replacement schedule; and a pump-station and force-main maintenance, repair and upgrade plan.

City leaders welcomed the news.

"I think the EPA is doing its job by issuing the order," said Mayor Wayne Baglin. "And I'm very pleased that it reflects much of the proactive actions the city has taken on during just the last couple years."

The order notes that the city increased sewer fees, adopted an $18.9-million sewer plan and completed 45 high-priority repairs.

"This shows that the City Council was acting in a responsible manner in spending the millions of dollars it has been spending," Baglin said.

City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said he plans to use the order to bolster the city's request for $12 million in state loans and $1 million in additional federal grant money.

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