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Orange County

County Seeks Way to Unclog Sewers

Infrastructure: Oils, fats are the No.1 cause of overflows. Supervisors to be asked to fund study.


To help reduce sewer backups that pollute the ocean, county staff is seeking $90,000 from the Board of Supervisors for a study on attacking fats and oils that clog sewer pipes.

Grease and fats are the No. 1 cause of sewer overflows in Orange County, and sanitation experts have yet to find a solution that prevents drain stoppages.

"We're looking at grease interceptors and we have all kinds of technology, including chemicals that can be added into the sewer line," said Lisa Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sanitation District. "But not all chemicals are good for the sewer system. They harm both the pipe and the treatment plant."

Under the proposal, the sanitation district and the county would each put up $90,000 for the study; cities are expected to pay the remainder of the $500,000 cost. Supervisors are expected to approve the funds Tuesday.

The study will help the county determine how to comply with new state restrictions aimed at cutting the number of spills in central and northern Orange County.

The county and cities are also now required to meet tough federal Clean Water Act regulations. They must comply within a year of receiving updated National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, issued every five years. Those that don't can face daily fines of up to $1,000, as well as $10 per gallon for sewage spills.

Laguna Beach recently instituted a "zero tolerance" toward spills. The city was ranked as second-worst among 30 California cities graded for sewage spills in 2001. It is spending $1.6 million--including $870,000 from a federal Environmental Protection Agency grant--to fix more than three dozen sewer deficiencies. The fats-and-oils study will examine new technologies and how governments across the country are preventing clogged drains. The study will be completed by June 2003.

According to the state Water Resources Control Board, which enforces the Clean Water Act, backed-up sewers are a growing problem.

"We've seen in our investigations that sewage spills are a major contributor to beach closures and [that] grease blockages are a major cause of sewer overflows," said Kurt Berchtold, assistant executive officer of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board.

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