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Orange County

Spill-Plagued Water District Gets a Cleanup Order From the EPA

October 18, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday ordered a major south Orange County water district to create a plan to prevent more sewage spills.

The South Coast Water District, which operates a 139-mile network of pipes and pump stations collecting sewage from Dana Point and portions of Laguna Beach and San Clemente, was put on notice to "scrutinize its operational and maintenance practices" to minimize spills, said Mark Merchant, a spokesman for the EPA. The district has had 49 spills since 1999.

"We've already been working with them," Merchant said. "This order essentially formalizes the cooperative efforts that have already been taking place to cut down on spills."

Linda Homscheid, a spokeswoman for the water district, said district officials anticipated the order.

"The bottom line is that we will comply with all of their requests," she said.

As part of its plan for compliance, Homscheid said, the district has already spent $750,000 on a new video inspection system -- begun in July 2002 -- using remote-controlled cameras to identify hard-to-reach areas of pipe in need of immediate repair. The district has also increased its cleaning of particularly problematic areas from once a year to four times a year. And, over the next 10 to 20 years, Homscheid said, the district plans to spend "millions of dollars" to replace, upgrade or repair defective pipelines, lift stations and other sewer infrastructure.

While 49 sewage spills in four years is not inordinate, Merchant said, it's "a higher number than we'd like it to be."

The federal agency has issued similar orders to other districts, including one earlier in the week to the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.

In Orange County, Homscheid said, "it's just a matter of planning the work and doing it. Fortunately, we're in a good position."

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