The reporting of sewage spills across Los Angeles County dramatically improved last year, with nearly 750 more records of spills than the previous year, according to a newly-released report by the county auditor controller.
Records of sewage spills in the county have increased 2,900 percent, from 26 in 2006 to 773 last year, according to the report. The reporting of sewage spills of 1,000 gallons or greater increased 645 percent, from 11 in 2006 to 82 in 2007, the report found.
The report also showed that the reporting of sewage spills during calendar year 2007 exceeded the combined total of all sewage spills reported during the previous five years. From 2002 to 2006, the county received only 87 sewage spill reports, compared to 773 for all of 2007.
The findings came after County Supervisor Don Knabe called for an investigation and reforms of the reporting process following a number of large sewage spills that occurred along the Santa Monica Bay. The investigation led to an initial report last year that revealed failures in the reporting process of sewage spills and the ways in which the public is notified about those spills.
“The results of this follow-up investigation are very positive,” Knabe said. “It shows that there has been a dramatic increase in the communication between the operators of sewage treatment systems and the public health officials who are tasked with responding to sewage spills and ultimately keeping the public safe.”
The initial report found that from 2002 through 2006, over 11.6 million gallons of raw sewage were spilled from wastewater treatment systems throughout the Santa Monica Bay Watershed in 208 separate sewage spills. Of those spills, over 90 percent were never properly recorded by health officials, nor were records kept as to what was done to protect the safety and health of the public impacted by the spills.
Knabe directed last year that a review of the new reforms needed to be made one year later to determine if the new protocols were working properly.
“While there is a vast difference in the number of spills that are being reported now versus how many spills were going unreported before, we at least now have a successful way to track spills and penalize those who don’t respond quickly,” Knabe noted. “By having accurate information and records, we can respond quicker to these spills.
“In the end, that will hopefully lead to the most important goal of all — keeping the public safe and minimizing the harmful effects of sewage spills on our waterways, beaches, environment, and oceans.”
As a result of the January 2007 investigation, Knabe unveiled a number of reforms to immediately address and reform the sewage spill reporting process, as well as the impact of the public health and health of the environment. The follow-up report revealed that the county has successfully implemented 15 of the 16 recommendations and reforms, with the one remaining reform currently in progress, a Knabe spokesman said.
Among the reforms was the successful passage of Assembly Bill 800, authored by Assemblyman Ted Lieu and sponsored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The new law requires that any agency responsible for a sewage spill now has the duty to report it to the local public health officer and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. In addition, fines will be imposed to any sewage treatment official who fails to promptly report a spill.