County Reopens Will Rogers Beach After Sewage Spill

Times Staff Writer

A three-quarter-mile stretch of Will Rogers State Beach, closed since Friday because of a spill of raw sewage, has been reopened to the public, county health officials said Wednesday.

The beach had been closed from Temescal Canyon to Sunset Point while the county Department of Health Services determined whether the surf was safe for bathers, said Dick Rinaldi, director of environmental protection for the department.

Signs Removed

But test results Wednesday afternoon showed that organic pollution levels had dropped “well within state guidelines and (confirmed) the findings that the city has been getting at their own lab,” Rinaldi said.

Signs posted to warn bathers to stay out of the water were removed Wednesday afternoon, he said.

The break in the city of Los Angeles sewer line occurred Aug. 28 on private property in Pulga Canyon, about half way between Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, said Harry Sizemore, assistant director of the city’s Bureau of Sanitation.


City sanitation workers determined that a tree root caused the rupture in the line and sent raw sewage pouring into a storm drain that empties into the Pacific at Will Rogers State Beach.

They traced the higher-than-normal bacteria counts to the storm drain last Thursday. They then followed the drain until it led to a rupture in the sewer line, which was allowing untreated sewage--bound for the Hyperion Treatment Plant in El Segundo--to enter the storm drain.

Workers began blocking the flow with sandbags and treating the waste with chlorine late last Thursday night, Sizemore said. They repaired the eight-inch clay pipe last Friday afternoon, he said.

But there was an unavoidable delay between the time of the rupture and its repair because test results from last week’s water sampling were not available for about a week, Sizemore said.

Although the city’s test results showed that the surf was safe for bathers by Saturday, the beach remained closed while the county health department waited for its own results. The county health department has jurisdiction over the safety of waters in the county, Rinaldi said.

State health standards require that the coliform count (an indicator of organic pollution) should not exceed 1,000 per 100 milliliters of water.

‘Unsafe Level’

The first of the city test results available last Thursday showed coliform counts in excess of 9 million in the storm drain and 16,000 where the runoff empties into the ocean, Rinaldi said. By Friday, the count in the drain had dropped to 3.5 million but held at 16,000 along the affected beach, he said.

“That’s an unsafe level, indeed,” Rinaldi said.

But on Monday, the coliform count in three surf locations dropped to less than 20 in two and to 80 at the third, Sizemore said. Although the bacteria can cause intestinal upset, there were no reports of illness among bathers or lifeguards who swam in the polluted waters last week.

Sizemore said he expected to present a written report on the rupture to the state Regional Water Quality Control Board office in Los Angeles early next week. The board could fine the city a maximum of $10,000 for each day of the sewage spill.

Last month, the board fined the city $30,050 for four spills of raw sewage from an overflow gate in Culver City into the ocean at Playa del Rey.

But Sizemore said there are significant differences between those spills and a sewage spill resulting from a sewer-line break in a remote area.

“When we have 6,000 miles of sewers, there are specific problems in the system from time to time, and we are constantly replacing sections of sewer,” he said.