Blue Water Task Force, Youth, Water Quality, Illness, Public Notification
December 02 2019

Large sewage spill plagues OC beaches over the holiday weekend

by Mara Dias

UPDATE: Orange County Health downgraded the ocean beach closures caused by the sewage spill to swim advisories at noon on Monday December 2, 2019.  Health officials still recommend avoiding contact with the water as bacteria levels still exceed health standards.  Unfortunately, swell conditions have proven to be too tempting for many surfers that have decided to go in anyway according to the OC Register.  Any reports of ocean illness can be made here.  

A 1.4 million gallon sewage spill in South Orange County, CA prompted health officials to close ocean and bay beaches over the holiday weekend. The raw sewage burst from a broken valve on a 24-inch pipe that transports sewage to a treatment plant in Laguna Beach, flowing onto a golf course, into nearby Aliso Creek, down the canyon and out into the Pacific Ocean.  That’s how watersheds work, everything flows downhill to the beach.  More about the spill here.

To protect the health of beachgoers and ocean recreationists, the Orange County Healthcare Agency closed the ocean and bay areas from Pelican Point at Crystal Cove in Newport Beach to the Poche Beach in Dana Point and San Clemente.  Current advisories and closures can be viewed at ocbeachinfo.com

This event highlights the importance of checking water quality conditions before going to the beach or jumping into the water.  Swimming in sewage is unsafe and could cause serious health problems. This is why Surfrider Foundation Blue Water Task Force volunteers are out at the beach collecting water samples and sharing vital water quality information with their communities.  Listen to Huntington Beach Surfrider activist Pam Conti, explain how her family has been affected by exposure to contaminated water and why this prompted her to lead her class of 5th grade students to test water quality at area beaches.  Watch this short film featuring the Huntington Beach BWTF at Pegasus School below.

Surfrider Foundation - Blue Water Task Force - Huntington Beach Chapter from Surfrider Foundation on Vimeo.

The more information we have on where it is safe to surf and swim, the better we can protect the health of our families and enjoy time in the water without worry.  See if one of Surfrider’s 50+ BWTF labs is located near you, or use this online-tool to access agency-provided beach water quality information in every coastal state. 

The silver lining of this past week’s events in Orange County is that the Laguna Beach City Council has just recently approved funding for improvements to the city’s sewer system.  Planned infrastructure improvements include pipeline repairs, lift stations, odor control facilities and much needed improvement to the aging South Orange County Wastewater Authority Treatment Plant facility that was built in 1950. 

While the 1.4 million gallon sewage spill was the worst spill in Laguna Beach in recent history, sewage spills, leaks and overflows happen far too often across the country.  A rash of sewage leaks and spills in South Florida this past summer, being just one case in point. Pipes and systems that were installed 75-100 years ago with an expected lifetime of 50 years remain underground untouched in many towns and cities across the U. S. until a major event like this Thanksgiving week sewage spill in Southern California.  Out of site should not remain out of mind when it comes to maintaining wastewater treatment facilities and infrastructure.  Surfrider commends Laguna Beach for the recent decision to spend significant funds to deal with their now obvious sewage infrastructure issues.  Our network of activists likewise will continue to work in their own communities across the country to raise the awareness of local sewage problems that need to be addressed to protect community health.  Connect with your local Surfrider Chapter here to plug in and get involved.