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3 beaches are closed after sewage spills

The relatively minor leaks were reported more promptly than recent spills. Beaches may reopen today.

February 08, 2007|Sharon Bernstein and Angie Green | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles County public health officials closed portions of three beaches this week after three unrelated sewage spills.

The spills, all relatively minor, occurred Tuesday afternoon and resulted in partial closure of Will Rogers State Beach, Dockweiler State Beach and Venice Beach. If water testing shows bacterial levels to be normal, the beaches will be reopened this afternoon.

The spills added to jitters regionwide about sewage contaminating beaches. Two weeks ago, auditors released a report showing that the county had no records for the vast majority of spills -- even in cases where tens of thousands of gallons of effluent washed into creeks and down to the ocean.

On Tuesday, a private contractor installing fiber-optic cable at Centinela and Bristol streets in Culver City hit an underground sewage line, rupturing it. Three thousand gallons of raw sewage poured into the streets at the intersection, gushing through storm drains into the Centinela Channel, and from there to Ballona Creek and out to the beach, said Mate "Matt" Gaspar, engineering services manager for Culver City.

As a result, public health officials closed portions of Venice and Dockweiler beaches.

Another spill fouled a tributary to Will Rogers State Beach after a homeowner in Pacific Palisades attempting to repair a faulty drainage line accidentally pressed part of a pipe liner into a sewer main. About 431 gallons of raw sewage backed up through the pipes, emerging in a nearby catch-basin.

"It was a small spill but very close to the beach," said Lauren Skinner, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Public Works. As a result, a portion of Will Rogers State Beach was also closed Tuesday.

The third spill was caused by tree roots working their way into a sewer line near Beverly Hills, causing 409 gallons of sewage to spill into Ballona Creek, affecting the same area of Dockweiler and Venice beaches as the Culver City spill.

According to Skinner, incursions by tree roots cause many of the city's sewer leaks, and have prompted Los Angeles to begin a program to upgrade old pipes.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, public health director for Los Angeles County, said that Culver City reported its leak to his department less than 90 minutes after it occurred. Los Angeles reported the Pacific Palisades leak about 3 1/2 hours after it occurred, but did not report the other until at least 12 hours after it occurred.

The relatively quick reporting was an improvement over previous spills, when municipalities and water agencies sometimes failed to alert county officials for days. The reporting issue is significant, Fielding said, because the county health department is responsible for closing beaches.

If public health officials don't know that a beach has been contaminated, he said, that beach will not be closed -- and swimmers and surfers might be exposed to dangerous bacteria.

This week's leaks were relatively small, Fielding said, but it was prudent to close the beaches. "We always want to err on the side of caution," he said.

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