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Laguna Beach

 Volume 12, Issue 56  |  July 14, 2020

City releases latest advisory on wastewater leak: mandatory beach closures lifted


The saga beginning with the wastewater leak on Wednesday at Aliso Creek – and the subsequent beach closures – has now been updated. As of this morning, the latest advisory put out by City Manager John Pietig reports:

“The Orange County Health Care Agency has lifted a mandatory closure order on all coastal beaches in Orange County following a sanitary wastewater leak on November 27. The order was lifted today after two consecutive days tested clean to confirm bacteria levels now meet acceptable State standards following the wastewater spill. 

“However, the community is always encouraged to continue to pay close attention to any warning signs posted at the beach for their safety.” 

Background on closures

As stated by the city, last Wednesday, beaches from San Clemente to Crystal Cove were closed due to a sanitary sewer leak that was discovered near the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. The leak occurred within a city line and was isolated and draining into Aliso Creek. 

In response to the event, co-founder of Laguna Bluebelt Coalition Jinger Wallace says, “Of course all of us are saddened and shocked by the recent unprecedented and massive sewage leak and the unknown impact on our beaches, tide pools, marine life, and public enjoyment of our marine protected areas.” 

The leak prompted the Orange County Healthcare Agency to issue several beach closures as a precaution. State law requires temporary closure and posting at beaches in these situations until the water quality meets State requirements. (As of the date of the closures, it was determined that water monitoring would continue until results complied with State water requirements.)

Wallace says, “Laguna Beach tourism was effectively shut down from Emerald Bay to Three Arch Bay, and we have no understanding yet of the impact of the sewage spill on our MPAs or on the beach once the sewage dries in the sand brought about by recent high tides.”

Progressive updates

On Friday, Nov 29, Pietig announced that the City of Laguna Beach had replaced a valve that was leaking on a 24” sewage pipe, effectively stopping a wastewater leak. The leak occurred near the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and was from the city sewage system, not The Ranch Golf Course. 

Jennifer Chapman, Digital Communications Coordinator City of Laguna Beach, reported, “A valve assembly on the main pipeline failed about one-quarter of a mile from the Coastal Treatment Plant in Aliso Canyon along the edge of the golf course. The spill had nothing to do with The Ranch or its operations.”

According to Wallace, “The public deserves to be informed as to how long the valve had been leaking and how the city maintains the whole system including all other valves. All steps should be taken to prevent another such sewage spill.”

As to what caused the leak, Chapman says, “Although the investigation is ongoing, the initial assessment is that a valve assembly failed due to long-term corrosion.” 

“This is a tragic way to be reminded of how important the health of our creeks and ocean waters are to the health of our community,” says Wallace.

“We now need to unite and commit to removing the aging sewage plant from Aliso Canyon and to create a modern, world-class wastewater treatment system.” 

City releases sign

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Scott Brashier

Residents advised to adhere to warning signs

On Friday, even though the city had previously issued a request to residents to voluntarily reduce water usage through Saturday to decrease impact to the wastewater system while repairs were made to the sewage pipe leak, the city advised all residents and business owners that they may resume normal water usage, effective immediately. 

Residents had been asked to avoid any unnecessary uses of water, including washing clothes, running the dishwasher, and taking baths or long showers. This event did not impact drinking water.

Pietig says, “We want to thank everyone for their patience, understanding, and efforts to conserve water usage while crews worked around the clock to repair the line.” 

Previous reports 

Also on Friday, the city reported that the current estimated wastewater spill volume was 1.4 million gallons, significantly less than the initial estimates of four million gallons. As a result, the Orange County Health Care Agency reduced the beach closures by about six miles. The closure then extended from the projection of El Moro Creek at Crystal Cove State Beach to the southern point of Dana Strands. The affected ocean and bay water areas remained closed to water-contact sports until the results of follow-up water quality monitoring met acceptable State water quality standards. 

Wallace says, “No longer should we take for granted that it is okay to pump millions of gallons everyday of secondary sewage to the ocean at Aliso Beach. Our City Council has voted to explore attaining a Zero Liquid Discharge from our sewage plant and we need to support them.”

Revised spill estimates

As stated in Chapman’s report, the original spill estimates were made by city staff and contractors based on the capacity of the pipe, field observations that were limited due to conditions, and very rough estimates of the time it would take to make repairs. Revised estimates were based on flow meters, pump capacity, pump run-time, and the duration of the spill. One key factor in this event was that more wastewater was being conveyed through the leaking area to the treatment plant than was originally expected. The Orange County Health Care Agency used the initial estimates to conservatively determine beach closures and revised the closures as more information was available. 

Event impact

“It is not just this one spill that needs our attention,” cautions Charlotte Masarik of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition.This appalling event must give us pause to reflect on the many contaminants discharged daily as part of secondary sewage to the ocean at Aliso Creek and the inherent risk of building a sewer plant in Aliso Creek and Wood Canyons which cannot and does not remove plastic microbeads nor pharmaceuticals from our urine. These effluents all go into our Marine ‘Protected’ Areas (MPAs).

“The public needs to demand more protection of our environment from the water districts such as the elimination of the Aliso Creek Ocean Outfall which discharges secondary sewage just 1.2 miles offshore. We should request a state of the art sewage treatment facility independent of Aliso and Wood Canyons that better protects us and our MPAs.”

Wallace says, “The health of the ocean determines Laguna’s economic health and the quality of life for those of us in Laguna. Let’s ask for nothing less.”

For more information, go to Orange County Health Care Agency’s website at


Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

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Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

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