The Light at the End of the Sewer Pipe

Recently the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board issued the City of Avalon a Cease and Desist Order for violating waste discharge requirements, in addition to requiring the city to implement a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for bacteria at Avalon Beach. This means that in order for the city to meet all state water quality standards for bacteria, Avalon is required to clean up its beach waters. This action was long overdue, as Avalon Beach has an extensive history (more than two decades) of chronically polluted beach water.

As part of Heal the Bay’s efforts to protect public health, improving Avalon’s beach water quality has been a longstanding goal. Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card (BRC) has identified Avalon Beach as one of California’s “top 10 polluted beaches” for the past eight out of 10 years, making it one of the most polluted in the state. This statistic is quite alarming, as the main industry on the island is tourism. Avalon Beach is a popular recreational destination for many people including, boaters, fishermen, divers and beachgoers (many of whom are children). The primary source of Avalon Beach’s extensive pollution problem? The city’s severely corroded sewer infrastructure.

Last year, Avalon’s Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) agreed to spend an estimated $5.7 million towards sewer improvement repairs and upgrades. Many of these upgrades have since been completed and the Avalon is definitely moving in the right direction by implementing these much needed upgrades. However, a more comprehensive approach is needed to maximize the city’s overall improvement efforts.

Prior measures taken by the discharger to address sewer improvement projects posed as a mere Band-Aid on a much larger problem. Despite our past frustrations with the health risk to millions of visitors from potential exposure to infections such as diarrhea, nausea and skin rash, Heal the Bay is relieved that Avalon will finally be held accountable for decades of polluted beach water.

Upcoming challenges to ensure that Avalon meets all water quality standards are far from over however. We will continue our efforts not only to bring awareness to this ongoing pollution problem, but also to apply the necessary pressure to improve public health protection at Avalon Beach for future tourists and beachgoers.

Today’s blogger is Amanda Griesbach, a beach water quality scientist at Heal the Bay.