California Beaches Battle Massive Sewage Spill

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Two million gallons of untreated sewage have spilled over a large swath of beach along the Santa Monica Bay, causing major headaches for sanitation officials and homeowners. Los Angeles County says it's the largest spill of its kind in more than a decade.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

It is the largest sewage spill in Los Angeles County in a decade. Two million gallons of untreated sewage has fouled a swath of beach along the southern end of Santa Monica Bay, and it's causing problems for sanitation officials and a few beach-front homeowners. NPR's Ina Jaffe has more from Manhattan Beach, south of LA.

(Soundbite of ocean waves)

INA JAFFE reporting:

A wave just broke on the ocean that some surfer would probably love to be riding on, but they can't now. These beaches are closed for miles. And right now Manhattan Beach, which is usually a broad strip of white sand with volleyball nets, is looking much more like a construction site.

(Soundbite of traffic)

Mr. JOE HALWORTH (Spokesman, LA County Sanitation Department): The amount of sewage that got to the sea is not what we would normally consider monumental spill, but it's in the hundreds of thousands of gallons.

JAFFE: Joe Halworth is a spokesman for the LA County Sanitation Department. Looking over the cleanup effort, he says what made this spill so bad is that it lasted about 14 hours before anyone was alerted. In addition to the pumps breaking down, the alarm system didn't work either. This spot on the beach, he says, was where a major manhole gave way under the pressure, becoming the major outflow for the spill.

(Soundbite of traffic)

Mr. HALWORTH: That worked as a relief valve. In a way, it was kind of a blessing. Because as a relief valve, the water came out in one location. We had a chance to control it by building a big impoundment out of sand instead of it coming out of all the manholes.

JAFFE: All the manholes, that is, that's along the south end of Santa Monica Bay. The result, however, was a lake of untreated sewage three to four feet deep.

Mr. HALWORTH: The neighbors here were standing out on their porches and going, `Whoa! What's that?'

(Soundbite of traffic)

JAFFE: The sewage spill affected relatively few homes, mostly those who are further south in Hermosa Beach. But here on Manhattan Beach, people were still concerned about the contamination of this beautiful stretch of coast. Cathy Clark(ph), taking her morning walk on the Strand, was pretty upset.

Ms. CATHY CLARK (Resident): Well, yeah, not that I swim or spend a lot of time on the sand. But I have a problem with my beach being all polluted with sewage and...

JAFFE: And other things too gross to mention.

(Soundbite of restaurant noises)

JAFFE: A few blocks away, Sean Khaki(ph) was having breakfast at the Local Yoke. He said the situation was frustrating personally since he surfs around twice a week. But it's not just a personal issue.

Mr. SEAN KHAKI: This is like one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. And that big sewage spill reminds everybody that we're not in Hawaii or not in the tropics. We're in the biggest city in America almost.

(Soundbite of restaurant noises)

JAFFE: According to Joe Halworth of the sanitation department, the beaches will probably be cleaned up and open to the public in a few days. Sean Khaki thinks it may be a few months before he goes back into the ocean around here. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Manhattan Beach.

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