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U.S. EPA orders South Coast Water District to cut sewer spills

Release Date: 10/17/2003
Contact Information: Mark Merchant, (415) 947-4297

LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that it has formally ordered the South Coast Water District to create a plan that will end sewer spills from its collection system.

The South Coast Water District operates a 140-mile network of sewer pipes and pump stations that collect sewage from the city of Dana Point and portions of Laguna Beach and San Clemente. The federal Clean Water Act prohibits discharging raw sewage to "navigable waterways" such as the Pacific Ocean.

Between 1999 and March of 2003, the South Coast Water District reported 49 sewage spills from its sewer system, 21 of which were into local waterways. The district reported seven spills in 2002; 11 spills in 2001; and 15 spills in 2000.

The EPA and South Coast Water District officials have determined that the main cause of sewer spills in the collection system is roots in the pipes that protrude or dislodge from private sewer pipelines and obstruct the public sewer system. This accounts for more than 50 percent of the sewer spills.

In addition, some of the district's sewer pipes are old and deteriorated making them prone to invasion by roots. Portions of the district's sewer system date back to the 1930s. Annual system cleaning, quarterly cleaning of problem areas, and ongoing repair and replacement of pipelines help prevent root invasion into the public sewer system.

"District officials have been working with the EPA and the state's Regional Water Quality Control Board to find solutions," said Alexis Strauss, water division director in the EPA's Pacific Southwest region. "We are looking for the South Coast Water District to make the commitment to complete necessary improvements. We hope this order will serve as the basis for that commitment."

In August, the district released a draft of "South Coast Water District Strategic Plan 2003 -- 2008" for public comment. The plan sets out priorities for the district to improve the way it operates. The plan sets out priorities for the district to improve the way it operates.

The district has been active in identifying and helping to find solutions to the various causes of beach closers in southern Orange County. Spills of untreated sewage from collections systems is one of those sources of pollution that can result in health warning on beaches. This order will help the district with its efforts to improve the health of the beaches.

With this order, the district must implement a plan by September 2004 to reduce the number of spills in its system that includes a sewer system cleaning and root control program; a sewer pipe inspection and condition assessment; a sewer repair, rehabilitation and replacement schedule; and a pump station assessment and upgrade plan.