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Bay Water Quality Culprit Found

Published 8/2/2007 on Grunion Gazette

A sharp-eyed resident, aggressive water testing and good cooperation between city and county agencies may have solved the mystery of poor water quality in and around Alamitos Bay for the last two summers.

According to Water Department General Manager Kevin Wattier, the bay began showing poor water quality in mid-July, much as it did last year. Then two weeks ago, Barbara Long (who works at the Aquarium of the Pacific) noticed what appeared to be polluted water being pumped into Alamitos Bay from the Alamitos Bay Pump Station, near the Leeway Sailing and Gondola Getaway dock. She took some pictures, and notified city authorities.

“For some reason, the low-flow storm water discharge diversion (which pumps storm drain water directly to the county sewage treatment plant) was overflowing,” Wattier said. “That made it discharge into the bay, which it isn’t supposed to do in the summer.”

Third District City Councilman Gary DeLong got involved, calling County Supervisor Don Knabe’s office. The result was the discovery that the county sanitation district (which is separate from county government) had only been accepting storm drain water from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., causing the Alamitos Bay sump to overflow. With help from Knabe’s office, the sanitation district issued an emergency permit to allow the Alamitos Bay Station to pump storm water 24 hours a day.

“This discharge in the south end of the bay sucked north by the power plants was consistent with a pattern of bacterial spikes,” DeLong said. “We found that when this occurs, the southern sites have cleared up by the next day, with the Mothers Beach sites clearing up two days later.”

Then last Friday, a new discharge was spotted coming from the Belmont Pump Station, just north of Second Street on Bay Shore Avenue. That station does not have an automatic diversion pump for low storm water flow, and was dumping the polluted water directly into the bay.

Once again, the county was informed. The next day, there was a 6-inch line running from the pump station to a nearby manhole, where the discharge was being pumped into the sewer system.

The Alamitos Bay and Belmont pump stations are the two largest of eight storm water pumps in and around Alamitos Bay and the Naples Canals. The Water Department is in the process of checking the rest of the pumps, and will be asking the county to install a permanent low-flow diversion at the Belmont Pump station, Wattier said.

“We think this has lots to do with the poor readings we got last year,” Wattier said. “The patterns we’re seeing are similar to what we saw last year. We’re pretty excited.

“We got tremendous cooperation from everybody to work this out. That’s what makes this a really good story.”

Long Beach plummeted to the bottom of Southern California’s beach water quality list last year according to Heal The Bay. Extremely poor water quality readings at both Mothers Beach and Colorado Lagoon last year left city officials scrambling for answers with no success.

Last month, the City Council ordered creation of a “Water Quality Task Force” to study reasons for poor water quality and ways to solve the problems. Another $100,000 was set aside to conduct a study of the Long Beach Breakwater, with council members citing poor water quality as a primary reason for action.

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