Community Commentary: Time to raise a stink about ocean sewage

October 13, 2011|By Michael Beanan

Anne Earhart's letter ("We can't ignore this global climate change," Sept. 30) adds another important voice to the relationship of ocean pollution, energy efficiency and global climate change.

Every day, each of us contributes to a sewage system serving 232,000 residents from Emerald Bay and Laguna Beach to the Dana Point Headlands, plus another half dozen inland cities. Annually, 3.9 million visitors add their contributions.

The Aliso Ocean Outfall, operating since Oct. 1 on an expired permit, discharges 15 mgd (million gallons per day) through an ocean diffuser only 1.2 miles off of Aliso Beach and the Montage Laguna Beach resort. An average of 1,300 pounds of total suspended solids (TSS) — use your imagination here — accompanies these discharges, according to in Santa Barbara.


Annually, this amounts to feeding 5 billion gallons of secondary sewage with known contaminates into a submerged "wastewater plume" of indeterminate size, shape or behavior. According to recent studies, the bioaccumulation of hormonal endocrine disrupters (among other sewage-borne viruses, pathogens and toxins) feminizes the reproductive traits of local marine life.

Adding to these flows are other cumulative discharges annually exceeding 240 million gallons of highly toxic aviation contaminates from the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro following 50 years of pollution into the huge central Orange County aquifer.

Cause for concern? You bet.

The solution to local ocean pollution is a sustainable water management program for all of Laguna. Water for Laguna comes primarily from the Colorado River via a 242-mile aqueduct through one of the hottest deserts on earth, thus losing significant amounts on its journey through evaporation.

The saltier Colorado-imported water is filtered of some salt then pumped up and down mountains to us. Many Laguna homes filter the water again as we brush our teeth, do the laundry, shower, use the toilet and send it all away down the sewer drain.

So where is "away"?

It's closer than you think.

For folks in Emerald Bay, Laguna Beach, north Dana Point and all of those inland cities, "away" is South Laguna, inland to the Coastal Treatment Plant at the Aliso Golf Course and then to the sea. Laguna's sewage is added to a deteriorating Effluent Transmission Main pipeline buried along the streambed of Aliso Creek. Nonetheless, the combined sewage with only secondary treatment is pumped to a depth of 170 feet.

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