Sewage spill closes Aliso Beach

Andrew Edwards

Thousands of gallons of raw sewage prompted health authorities to

close Aliso Beach on Friday, but it was not enough to deter a handful

of beachgoers from playing in the polluted surf.

The beach was open again Sunday.

"No extra toes," joked Jon Collyer, a skimboarder from Dana Point

who was not worried by the possibility of sharing the water with

bacteria.

The Orange County Health Care Agency closed a 1-mile stretch of

beach after 10,500 gallons of sewage seeped out of a manhole cover

and flowed into the ocean Thursday evening, healthcare agency

spokesman Larry Honeybourne said. The spill happened between 5 and 6

p.m. Thursday and was caused by blockage created by tree roots that

grew into a sewer pipe.

"It has to back up somewhere, and it backs up through the nearest

manhole cover," Honeybourne said.

The beach was cleared to reopen on Sunday, but people were able to

ignore the warning if they chose to do so. The healthcare agency does

not have enough staffers on hand to enforce a closure, and access to

the beach is left open because people are free to spend a day on the

sand, healthcare agency spokeswoman Monica Mazur said.

Bright yellow warning signs were planted in the sand along Aliso

Beach on Friday, and a faint putrid odor lingered in the air, but

these factors were not enough to deter a few boogie boarders,

skimboarders and waders who were determined to enjoy what turned out

to be Laguna's most recent day without rain.

One parent did not think the warnings were grave enough to prevent

his daughter from going into the water, as long as she did not get in

too deep.

"We're not going in full body, just the feet," said Laguna Niguel

resident John Nelson, as he played with his small daughter, Meredith.

Others said they did not notice the row of signs that greeted

beachgoers as they walked to the water.

"There are clearly not enough signs," said Santa Barbara boogie

boarder Scott Reeves, who acknowledged he probably would have gone

into the water even if he had seen the notices, since he often uses

the beaches near his hometown when warnings related to oil leaks are

posted.

A skimboarder who did not see the signs, T.J. Johnson of

Huntington Beach, said he was a little worried by the danger but

could not resist the lure of the ocean on a sunny day.

Johnson and other beachgoers were warned to stay out of the water

by a U.S. Ocean Safety lifeguard who was the patrolling the sands.

"It's basically illegal to be in the water right now," the

lifeguard said. "The water warning here is pretty serious."

Beachgoers should not only obey beach closures prompted by sewer

spills but should stay clear of the beach three days after rainfall,

said Rick Wilson, chairman of the Laguna Beach chapter of the

Surfrider Foundation. Swimming in contaminated waters puts people at

risk for gastroenteritis, eye, ear and skin infections, and illnesses

like hepatitis.

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