Santa Monica is one of LA’s most visited and beloved tourist destinations.
The beach, pier, and ambiance are world-famous, and the coastline property is extraordinarily desirable for commercial developers and those that want beautiful views and 24/7 access to the area.
But, a recent “emergency measure” by the LA Department of Sanitation & Environment has left nearly two miles of beach polluted with waste, and coastal waters inundated with 17 million gallons of sewage.
The incident happened on Sunday, July 11th when the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant was overloaded and engineers on-site used the relief system to drop the water pressure and avoid a complete shutdown.
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While discharge from the plant usually takes a different route and avoids impacting Santa Monica’s inhabitants, the site’s emergency system needed to dispel the sewage quickly and, as a consequence, used a different route. In a post on Twitter, the department noted that “the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant became inundated with overwhelming quantities of debris, causing backup of the headworks facilities,” but did not say what had caused the incident.
Residents became concerned due to the high visibility of the sewage and its impact on one of the area’s most densely-occupied locations, but the department’s press release attempted to assuage fears by adding that “Protocols for notifying regulatory agencies and the State’s Office of Emergency Services were followed, plant staff was onsite all night and resolved the issue early [Monday] morning.”
Timeyin Dafeta, executive plant manager, told the Los Angeles Times that construction materials like concrete, plywood, grease, and paper had been improperly dumped into the sewage system somewhere along its 6,700 miles of pipes. “Those things should not be in our system. That, in essence, is what caused the whole thing,” he added.
Both the Dockweiler and El Segundo beaches, which are closest to the emergency discharge pipeline, remain closed as of Wednesday. Many are criticizing the perceived slow response from LA Sanitation in alerting the public.
It took the department nearly 24 hours from the start of the discharge to issue a warning, which was confined to their social media presence and had not been shared with first responders. Anyone who went to Dockweiler or El Segundo beach on Monday morning was swimming in potentially contaminated water, and completely unaware of the situation.
“We are evaluating our response to this incident and will update our practices going forward to ensure that measures are in place to effectively notify the public,” explained Brett Morrow, spokesman for the LA Department of Public Health, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Days before the incident, the Department of Sanitation had announced on Twitter that the Hyperion plant would soon “become a 100% water recycling facility.” Though this event and the official response are obviously cause for concern, it does show that efforts are underway to keep the city’s sewage system responsive not just to the ongoing drought, but unforeseen emergencies as well. Officials hope the beaches can reopen shortly, and tests of water quality have so far come back within acceptable levels. Still, the incident underscores the precarity of the systems we rely on every day, and the impact they can have on the natural world.Whizzco