Southern California beaches from Orange to Los Angeles counties were closed over the holiday weekend following the spill of as many as 7 million gallons of untreated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, officials said Sunday.
The spill happened after a series of late December storms brought heavy rainfall to the area. A section of Los Angeles County-run sewage system “collapsed,” sending untreated wastewater to already overwhelmed storm drains that lead to sea, some blocked by debris, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts said in a series of statements.
The collapse was reported Friday night in the city of Carson, and an emergency contractor quickly set up pumps to bypass the problem, but sewage continued to make it to sea the next day, according to the districts.
By New Year’s Day additional bypass pumps and the last drops of rain combined to help end the spill overnight, the sanitation officials said.
The spill prompted coastal closures from Huntington Beach to the south to Rancho Palos Verdes to the north, officials in the two counties impacted by the breach said.
The closures included seven miles of beaches and bayfront areas in the the city of Long Beach, health officials there said. Reopening the the coastline to recreation would require water testing that shows bacterial levels that are not hazardous, they said.
Some of the very same beaches were temporarily closed in early October after a pipeline breach off the coast of Huntington Beach released an estimated 25,000 gallons of crude into the Pacific.
The 70th annual Polar Bear Swim at Cabrillo Beach in the city of Los Angeles, scheduled for New Year’s Day, was canceled because of the latest spill.
Frigid water temperatures in the mid-50s have generally helped to keep holiday tourists away from the shoreline, but the regularity of storm-related spills has some leaders concerned.
“A sewage spill of this magnitude is dangerous and unacceptable, and we need to understand what happened,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “The recent storm undoubtedly contributed to the spill, but we need infrastructure that doesn’t fail when it rains.”
A major storm drainage creek serving the area of the spill, the Dominguez Channel, was also the subject of a persistent, foul odor in October.
Investigators focused on a late September fire at an area warehouse that stored wellness and beauty products. They believe the fire unlocked and released some of the products’ chemicals, including ethanol, that then made their way to the channel and allegedly caused or contributed to the sulfuric odor.