Group opposes outfall permit renewal

A permit that regulates the daily discharge of millions of gallons of treated wastewater into the ocean from an outfall off of Aliso Beach has expired and is up for renewal.

The South Laguna Civic Assn. opposes the renewal of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. The South Orange County Wastewater Authority, of which Laguna is a member, supports the renewal.

A draft of the new permit will be distributed for public comment and hearings will be conducted by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board, probably in March or April.

"This is a serious issue," said association Vice President Michael Beanan. "We don't want it swept under a rug."

In a letter to the Coastline Pilot, Bean questioned if it was not time to raise a stink about ocean sewage discharge.

"The discharge is not drinking water, but it is fully treated," said David Shissler, director of water quality for the city. "We are part of SOCWA, which is in the business of complying with the permits."

Beanan said his group is not as concerned about the condition of the outfall as it is about the Aliso Creek Effluent Main Transmission that feeds it.

"You can't separate the two," Beanan said.

The feeder pipe is located mostly on the east side of the badly eroded creek. Beanan said it could be damaged in a storm.

"If the EMT is breached, 13 million gallons of sewage in the creek goes into the shoreline," Beanan said. "And it would not be just South Laguna that would be impacted. It could go as far as Main Beach, and I don't think a lot of people realize that."

However, Tom Rosales, general manager of SOCWA, said the feeder pipeline has not reached the end of its life and probably has another 25 to 40 years of useful service.

Rosales said the pipeline is not threatened by the creek erosion or instability, and no discernible damage was incurred in the December deluge.

Nonetheless, SOCWA has a contingency plan in the event of a disaster to regional infrastructure like the feeder pipe. The plan, drafted in the 1990s, will be undergoing an update, according to Rosales.

As for impacts on marine life — a concern of the association and other environmental groups — Rosales said SOCWA believes that regulatory requirements and the agency's past record do present compelling evidence that the discharge from the outfall is not adversely impacting the South Laguna coastal waters.

Tests are conducted monthly at 14 locations. Results demonstrate that recreational use of ocean water is not impacted, Rosales said.

In a letter to the regional board, Beanan said the association would prefer to work with its staff, but suggested other remedies would be pursued if the permit was approved.

"NPDES permit renewals provide a rare opportunity to advance sustainable solutions to creek and ocean pollution in a time sensitive manner," he wrote. "An administrative reissuance of NPDES permit in light of known threats to the Aliso Ocean Outfall is unwise and will require additional, costly appeals to state water quality regulators and federal authorities for immediate intervention."

Rosales said that even if the city pulled out of SOCWA, the member agencies would still need the pipeline and it would continue to operate.

"It's the backbone of the regional wastewater treatment and disposal system," Rosales said. "It is one pipeline instead of several little ones. Someone had a good idea and carried through."

SOCWA's service area stretches more than 200 square miles and includes the Aliso Creek, Salt Creek, Laguna Canyon Creek and San Juan Creek Watersheds.

Members of the joint powers are the cities of Laguna Beach, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano; El Toro, Irvine Ranch, Moulton Niguel, Santa Margarita, South Coast and Trabuco Canyon water districts; and Emerald Bay Service District.

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