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Malibu, CA - Elegant, Upscale and Founded on the Principle of Septic Tanks!

Septic tanks helped give birth to the city of Malibu just 18 years ago. Now, regional water officials will vote on whether to prohibit septic systems. Regulators blame septic tanks for poor water quality along the coast, at surf spots and in Malibu Lagoon, according to Brown and Baldwell's California Water News.

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The Los Angeles Times reported on the controversial new policy and traced the history of water and sewer wars in this Pacific beach town.  In many ways, the septic tanks played a large role in Malibu becoming a city. It incorporated and formed its own government in 1991 to stave off Los Angeles County's efforts to install a sewer system in the area. Residents at the time feared sewers would unleash a wave of development that would turn Malibu into Miami Beach West.

But sewer has also become the undoing of the community.  Malibu septic tanks, leach pits and the ubiquitous stench known as the "Malibu smell" are not so elegant, but frequent topics. Officials often post signs on Surfrider Beach after rainstorms urging swimmers and surfers to stay away because of health dangers. Surfrider Beach often gets failing grades on Heal the Bay's annual beach water-quality report cards.

Joe Melchione, chairman of the Malibu Surfing Assn.'s environmental committee, spoke out against the beach contamination at a 10-hour meeting Thursday at the Metropolitan Water District headquarters. Another member of the surfing group exhibited the scar on his chest, where a pacemaker was implanted  because of the viral myocarditis he contracted after paddling through raw sewage at Surfrider Beach in the summer of 1997.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board agreed to ban septic systems in central and eastern Malibu, a move that would end years of fierce debate over the wastewater devices still commonly used in one of Southern California's most picturesque and exclusive coastal communities.

New septic systems will not be permitted in Malibu and owners of existing systems will have to halt wastewater discharges within a decade.

The shift to a sewer system comes at considerable expense. Residents in affected areas would be required to pay about $500 a month to cover the cost of hooking into a central sewage system, according to the city's projections. And businesses would face payments of up to $20,000 a month.

This community battle resulted in the city being sued both FOR and FOR NOT providing specific sewer solutions.  This battle is indicative of the battles to come as more communities grapple with water quality issues that have to be woven into complex community infrastructure and natural ecosystem challenges.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, Managing Editor of Solutions For Green

Publication Date: 11/7/2009
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