A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Ted Lieu of Torrance that calls for improved reporting of coastal sewage spills became law Wednesday, October 10th.

Assembly Bill (AB) 800 clarifies that the entity or person responsible for a sewage spill has the duty to report it to the public health officer and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

“This is a big win for the coastline throughout California,” Lieu said. “Our beaches are one of our greatest natural wonders, and we need to make sure they’re protected. If beaches are closed right away, then the cleanup can begin immediately.”

The legislation was one of several bills Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in Santa Barbara as part of a series of Ocean Protection bills that arrived at his desk this year.

“California’s coastline is magnificent,” said Schwarzenegger. “The coast is not only where we live, but where we work and play. These bills will allow California to continue on the path as a world leader in the preservation and protection of our ocean resources.”

The new law comes just weeks after a report card issued by Heal the Bay found marked improvement in the water quality in California beaches. The Santa Monica-based nonprofit organization assigned letter grades to nearly 500 beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day based on bacterial levels in the ocean. Over the summer, 92 percent of the beaches received an A or B, and these grades represented an almost ten percent rise from last year.

Los Angeles County once again has the worst ocean quality grades in the state, with 17 percent of its beaches earning Fs during the summer. Santa Monica Bay monitoring locations, however, received high marks this summer. Only four of the 67 Santa Monica Bay beaches earned poor marks, according to Heal the Bay.

Lieu thinks that the new legislation can serve a number of important purposes.

“This bill will help to improve reporting of sewage spills, many of which have occurred in my district,” the assemblyman told The Argonaut. “AB 800 is not only good for our environment, it’s all good for the economy, because we have many tourists that visit our beaches and tourism is very important to many of our local economies.”

One reason it is crucial that the public health officer be notified is because he or she is the only person who can close a beach and protect the public health.

A report released by the Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller earlier this year showed that hundreds of sewage spills in Los Angeles County since 2002 have never been reported. These unreported spills represent over eight million gallons of raw sewage that have affected many coastal areas of county.

“We hope that this law will increase reporting of sewage spills,” said Eric Edwards, chief environmental health officer of the Environmental Health Division of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “In the past, there have been times when there have been sewage spills into the ocean and we didn’t know about them until much later. This law will put people on notice that they have a duty to report them to us.”

Lieu also acknowledged Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, whose office supported AB 800. In January, the supervisor called for a countywide investigation to look into the delays in communication that were occurring between public agencies that led to inaccurate reporting on the frequency and the amount of discharge being reported to the proper city and county agencies.

“[Knabe] was very helpful in raising this issue with the public,” Lieu said. “I thank him for his hard work on this important issue and for supporting AB 800.”

David Sommers, Knabe’s press deputy, feels that one of the most important components of the bill is that it defines who has the responsibility to report a discharge and which county department will respond.

“It clarifies the role that the different agencies will have in terms of reporting sewage spills and accurately recording them,” he said.

Sommers mentioned that Knabe would be seeking a follow-up investigation in January to the probe that his office launched this year.

AB 800 was supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Environment California and Santa Monica Baykeeper.

It was joint-authored by Assemblymembers Julia Brownley of Santa Monica and Paul Krekorian of Burbank.