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Ojai Sanitation Agency Fined $223,000 in 1998 Sewage Spill

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A waste-water agency that dumped 1.2 million gallons of raw sewage into a Ventura River tributary has been ordered to pay $223,000 in fines, culminating a 15-month investigation into the spill, state water quality officials said Tuesday.

Workers at the Ojai Valley Sanitary District ignored warnings of a pump failure and failed to take immediate action to halt the spillage, allowing untreated waste to gush into Canada Larga Creek for nine days last year, investigators said. Creek water flows to the Pacific Ocean near Surfer’s Point in Ventura, a popular spot for surfers and beach-goers.

Officials at the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board said the discharge posed a health risk at the time, but there is no record that anyone became ill. The sewage plant treats waste water from Ojai to Oak View to parts of west Ventura.

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Investigators found that workers at the sanitation district failed to adequately inspect and maintain pipes and pumps, which contributed to the spill that occurred between Sept. 24 and Oct. 2, 1998.

The leak occurred when a broken sensor failed to activate a pump, causing sewage to back up into a manhole and blow out a corroded pipe plug, sending waste water into the creek, said Hugh Marley, chief of the enforcement and special projects unit for the water quality board.

A worker, who noticed a decrease in pump activity, recorded the change incorrectly and did not inspect the condition of the pump, according to the Dec. 9 fine order issued to the sanitary district. New equipment has been installed to prevent any similar leaks at the plant.

“This was big. It happened over a series of days, but by the time we discovered the spill most of it was really long gone,” Marley said.

The sanitary district could contest the fine at a Jan. 26 hearing before the water quality board. Efforts to reach the district Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

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