The fallout over a sewage spill into the Santa Monica bay has reached federal lawmakers with Congressman Ted Lieu asking for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to open an investigation into the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant.

The plant discharged about 17 million gallons of raw sewage into the waters near Dockweiler beach after debris clogged its system over July 11 and 12.

Plant operators have been criticized for failing to notify anyone of the spill in a timely manner and for subsequent continued discharge of partially treated wastewater into the ocean.

“Given the severity of recent incidents, the subsequent and continued discharge of untreated and partially treated wastewater near highly trafficked beaches, and the lack of clear communication by the City of Los Angeles, an investigation into the facility’s operations, response, and environmental impact is warranted,” said Lieu in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan and NOAA Administrator Richard W. Spinard.

“As the City of Los Angeles discharged this wastewater and facility operators attempted repairs, key local first responders and nearby cities were not immediately informed of the discharge in the nearby ocean.

(There may have been a violation of the California law I authored in 2007 to improve reporting of sewage spills). The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health waited several hours to inform the public to avoid swimming in area beaches. Later, my office was briefed about the incident and the ongoing operations to repair the plant and return it to full capacity,” he said. “Since this incident, beachgoers, residents of surrounding coastal cities, and my constituents have had to deal with foul odors emanating from the facility and concerns about the safety of nearby ocean waters.”

He said reports indicating continued discharge of partially treated wastewater are seemingly a gross violation of the plant’s environmental permit and violate water pollution standards.

“Given the severity of this incident, the egregious delay in notifying local officials of the event, the continued discharge of wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, and the impact not only to nearby communities but also the local ecosystem, I urge EPA and NOAA to investigate this incident. This facility plays a critical role in processing wastewater in Los Angeles County and its continued problematic operation requires federal action,” he said.

County officials have continued to issue water use warnings at beaches along the local coast following the initial closures. Several Santa Monica beaches have been added to and removed from the list depending on bacterial levels on any given day.

As of Tuesday, Avalon Beach at Catalina Island (50 feet east of the pier), the Bel Air Bay Club at Will Rogers State Beach and Mothers Beach in Marina Del Rey are under a warning from the County.

“This catastrophic accident not only did great damage to our local beaches and water, but also undermined the public’s trust in their government’s ability to serve them and keep them safe,” said Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin. “Residents have the right to know exactly why the sewage spill happened, its impact on the area, the cost to taxpayers and what steps will be taken to prevent another similar incident in the future.”

Last week the County Board of Supervisors received a report, requested by Supervisor Janice Hahn, discussing the failures.

During the meeting, Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer apologized for the lack of communication from her department regarding the incident and supervisors were also able to question various officials responsible for the spill.

Hahn has been a vocal critic of the spill and the many failures in communication that prevented the public from learning about the incident.

“The events that unfolded at Hyperion and what we learned about our County’s response were both unacceptable — but I do want to say that I appreciate Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer’s sincere apology and the fact that her Department is committed to correcting what went wrong and ensuring something like this never happens again,” said Hahn in a statement. “I think that goes a long way in rebuilding the public’s trust.”

Information on beach closures is also available online at our website: PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach.

editor@smdp.com