Dockweiler Beach closure traced to outfall pipe not used in 10 years
A sewage outfall pipe used for the first time in 10 years, following the Sept. 14 downpour, appears to be the source of debris and elevated levels of bacteria that prompted county officials to close Dockweiler Beach Tuesday morning. Some four miles of beach were closed, from 45th Street in Manhattan Beach on the south to Ballona Creek in Playa Del Rey on the north.
The brief but intense rainstorm the evening of Sept. 14 produced about two inches of precipitation in a six-hour period. Officials at the Hyperion Treatment Plant, confronted by hundreds of millions of gallons of extra water from storm drains, diverted some of the runoff to the previously unused outfall, which empties one-mile offshore.
The pollution problem may have been compounded by the treatment plant’s diversion of wastewater from its usual outfall, which empties five miles off shore, to the outfall used for the stormwater runoff. Hyperion began rerouting treated wastewater to accommodate repairs to the five-mile outfall. The diversion began Monday and is expected to continue through the end of October.
Sanitation officials with the City of Los Angeles, who are responsible for the Hyperion facility, said that because the one-mile outfall had not been used since 2006, most of the refuse found on the beach had likely been sitting inside it.
Hypodermic needles, tampon applicators and condoms were among the debris scattered along the shoreline.
“We do suspect that, as a result of being dormant for close to 10 years, stuff had built up inside it and the first flush may have impacted the screening process,” said Tonya Durell, a spokesperson for LA Sanitation at the Department of Public Works.
Some of the items may also have been recently disposed of in toilets. The surge from the rainstorm overwhelmed filters meant to capture debris, according to a statement from the Department of Public Works.
Two city vessels and one contractor vessel have been monitoring the outfall since Tuesday night, when the sanitation department first became aware of the debris, Durell said.
A release posted on the county health department’s Web site indicates that, in addition to the debris found on the beach, recent measurements of water quality showed elevated bacteria levels, and the area is considered unsafe for swimming.
Health department officials would not comment on the source of the contamination, and referred questions to L.A. city sanitation officials.
L.A. city sanitation officials were uncertain whether the diversion of wastewater that began Sept. 21 was responsible for the bacteria levels reported by the county health department.
“We can’t say at this time,” Durell said.
James Alamillo, urban programs manager at Heal the Bay, said that the elevated bacteria levels were likely connected to the combination of the rainstorm and the diversion. He said he expects the problems to clear up quickly.
“They are doing daily sampling in the area each day through Saturday,” Alamillo said. “We are probably going to see the beach reopen soon.”ER
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