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Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

California; Metro Desk

The Region 4,400-Gallon Sewage Spill Closes Part of Laguna Beach Shoreline Health: The mile-long stretch involves the city's foremost surfing areas, officials say. It will reopen when tests show the water is safe.

A sewage spill forced the closure Monday of about a mile of Laguna Beach's picturesque shoreline.

The ocean between Laguna Avenue and Bluebird Canyon Drive will remain closed until testing shows that it is safe, said Monica Mazur, spokeswoman for the Orange County Health Care Agency.

"That's the heart of Laguna's public beaches," said City Councilman Wayne Baglin, who added that the area has been busy lately despite the cold weather. "That includes the beach where I bodysurf all the time, at St. Ann's [beach]. . . . That hits Laguna's foremost surfing beaches."

The 4,400-gallon spill, caused by tree roots blocking an 8-inch sewage collector line, began about 8 a.m. at Thalia Street and Temple Hills Drive. About 6,000 gallons of raw human waste blew a cover off a manhole, flowed across at least two homeowners' backyards, into the storm-drain system, onto the street and then back into the storm-drain system, which discharged on the beach at Anita Street, said Baglin and Mazur.

Workers recovered about 1,600 gallons, said Assistant City Manager John Pietig. He suspected that tree roots were washed out of a private line into the 8-inch collector pipe, which serves about 100 residents and was last cleaned in August.

Still, "that's a huge spill. That's very, very frustrating," Baglin said.

Monday's closure is the ninth time this year that a Laguna Beach coastal stretch has been tainted by raw sewage. It also is the 50th time this year that an Orange County beach has been closed by a sewage spill. Swimming in sewage- tainted water can cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; eye, ear, nose and throat infections; and viral diseases such as hepatitis.

Laguna Beach is one of several older coastal cities that has experienced the results of a deteriorating sewer infrastructure in recent years. Last year, the city agreed to pay a $60,000 fine imposed by state water officials. The city has raised sewer rates and has spent millions rehabilitating its aging system.

But some activists said that is not enough. Roger von Butow, founder of the Clean Water Now! Coalition, said the city needs to invest more as well as react more effectively to spills. For example, he said, the city could work to contain the spill on the beach and pipe it into the sewer system instead of allowing it to flow into the ocean.

State water officials are poised to look at strengthening requirements for sewage agencies, cities and others.

The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, which oversees water- quality issues in northern and central Orange County, is holding a public workshop on stricter measures, including stepped-up inspections and faster spill response, at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Santa Ana.


PHOTO: Authorities closed a mile of Laguna Beach shoreline, including this stretch north of Brooks Street, to swimmers and surfers.; ; PHOTOGRAPHER: DON TORMEY / Los Angeles Times; GRAPHIC-MAP: Off Limits / Los Angeles Times;

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