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Septic Systems Banned In Malibu

December 11th, 2009 by Jessika

Ken Seino was surfing at Malibu’s Surfrider beach in August 1997 when he found himself paddling through raw sewage.

He got back to shore and washed off as thoroughly as he could. When he got home he washed again.

No matter how much he washed, that day would stay with him the rest of his life.

The next morning he woke up with a 103-degree fever, and an infection that lasted three weeks.

Seino, a member of the Malibu Surfing Association, testified about his experience before the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board on Nov. 5 as he urged the board to prohibit the release of pollutants and chemicals into Malibu’s groundwater.

“My plea to you board members is for life itself,” Seino said.


The board approved the prohibition in a five to seven vote after hearing reports and comments from the board’s staff, the city of Malibu and the public.

The approved prohibition was a compromise based on the recommendations of the board’s staff after they heard testimony from the city of Malibu, Heal the Bay, and a crowd of over 100.

The board’s vote will prohibit commercial and residential buildings surrounding the Malibu civic center from discharging pollution into groundwater.

Polluted wastewater is discharged when buildings have on-site systems for sewage disposal that leak when capacity is reached.

Commercial buildings will need to comply with the prohibition by 2015. Residential buildings will have until 2019 to comply.

Compliance with the board’s actions will make it necessary for the city and its residents to find different ways to dispose of sewage, such as constructing sewers or building a centralized treatment plant. The city will be able to decide what method they want to use.

To comply, the city may need to spend as much as $80 million, according the board’s staff report. Malibu’s residents would also have to pay for compliance. Preliminary estimates from the city estimate that residents could see monthly fees ranging from $400 to $500.

The board’s approval came despite objections by Malibu officials and residents.


Before the board voted, Malibu presented an alternative plan that included construction of a sewage treatment plant to recycle wastewater.

The city’s plan also included disinfectant systems for buildings with on-site disposal systems. Disinfection would eliminate harmful pollutants from the wastewater, making it safer to discharge. Some of the buildings identified for disinfection lie beyond the civic center area.

Heal the Bay President Mark Gold supported some of Malibu’s proposals. Gold said disinfection could also decrease pollution and agreed that the sites identified outside of the civic center area should be included in the board’s action.

However, Gold said that a prohibition and moratorium was critical for the city of Malibu.

“You need to have a legally binding commitment,” Gold said to the board.

A legal commitment is needed, because the city has a poor track record of complying with water quality regulations, he added.

City officials disputed that portrayal, saying they have made efforts to improve the water quality. They also emphasized the need for collaboration between the board and the city and the city’s commitment to improve water quality.

“This is not a simple problem,” said Malibu Council Member John Sibert. “We admit that there are issues.”

After listening to the objections posed by Malibu officials, residents, and Heal the Bay, the regional board staff revised the originally proposed prohibition.

The revision gave the city more time to complete the projects needed to comply with the prohibition, and it excluded the Winter Canyon neighborhood and Pepperdine University from the prohibition. In addition, the board exempted building projects that were already underway.

However, the approved revision did not include the additional sites mentioned by the city and Heal the Bay or disinfection as an option.

Malibu recently began construction of Legacy Park, a multi-million dollar stormwater treatment facility. However, this project will not treat sewage, and the city will still have to decide how it will comply with the prohibition.

But before the city complies, they will continue to fight the prohibition. The board’s ban still needs to go to the California Water Quality Control Board for final approval. A date for the state board’s public hearing has not yet been set.

In the meantime, Seino said he still fights the effects of the infection he got over ten years ago in the waters off Malibu.

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