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Sewage Agency Opposes New, Costly System

Times Staff Writer

An umbrella agency overseeing sewage treatment and disposal for most of Orange County should ask federal approval to continue ocean dumping of partially treated sewage rather than spend $1.4 billion for improved facilities, the agency’s staff recommended Tuesday.

The Orange County Sanitation Districts staff members said at a news conference Tuesday in Fountain Valley that they could not justify the estimated 30-year cost of achieving full secondary treatment of sewage, particularly because their tests show that the marine environment is not hurt by the dumping of less-treated sewage.

The cost to improve sewage-treatment facilities would mean about $40 more a year for homeowners, district officials said.

“Tests show the current level of treatment (of sewage) has no adverse impact on the marine environment or its beneficial uses, such as fishing and swimming,” said Corinne Clawson, a spokeswoman for the agency, which serves about 1.9 million of the county’s 2.2 million residents. “We’ve found no compelling reason to go to full secondary treatment” of sewage.

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Sierra Club Opposed

But an official of the national Sierra Club assailed the recommendation, saying that all sewage should be given full secondary treatment before disposal.

Sheri Tonn, head of the Sierra Club’s National Water Committee, laughed when told of the estimated $40 annual cost per household for upgrading the Orange County districts’ facilities. “That is such a low cost, I can’t believe it,” she said. “In Seattle, which used to dispose of its (partially treated) sewage in the ocean before it lost its (federal) waiver, the increased cost . . . is going to be thousands of dollars more (per household).”

Secondary treatment is a biological process, using microorganisms, that consumes about 20% to 35% more of the solids remaining after primary treatment, according to the sanitation districts. Now, half of the districts’ sewage gets primary and secondary treatment, and the other half gets only primary treatment. The combined effluent is pumped to an ocean outfall about 4 miles off the mouth of the Santa Ana River.

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