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Beaches still shut after spill

Published 8/14/2008 on Press-Telegram 

LONG BEACH – Long Beach resident Ellen Williams didn't notice the yellow "Beach Closed" signs as she splashed in the ocean with her 2-year-old son on Wednesday near Belmont Pier.

A nearly four-mile stretch of beach from Alamitos Avenue to 72nd Place was closed Tuesday after a broken sewer pipe near Watts spilled into Compton Creek, leaking 20,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Los Angeles River.

The beaches remained closed Wednesday as the Health Department tested the water. Jeff Benedict, manager of the department's environmental health bureau, said the beaches could reopen today if bacterial levels are determined to be safe.

In the meantime, dozens of beachgoers speckled the sand but steered clear of the water. Lifeguards weren't able to catch Williams and her small son in time.

"Oh yuck!" said Williams, after being told that the water was possibly contaminated. "I thought it looked a little dirty. I guess we'll just rinse off really well when we get home."

Kat Johnson, 16, of Oklahoma was looking forward to a dip in the Pacific Ocean. But after seeing the closure signs, the teen and her friends were contemplating taking a bus to Huntington Beach.

"Long Beach beach is a sewer," she said.

This is the fifth sewage spill this year that has resulted in beach closures in the city. Three of the spills occurred outside of Long Beach and leaked down the L.A. River, but two apparently originated in the city.

On July 26, a grease blockage in a sewer pipe serving a gated residential community near Loynes Drive and Pacific Coast Highway lead to the leaking of 12,000 gallons of sewage into Spinnaker Bay, closing Mother's Beach, Marine Stadium, Colorado Lagoon and Alamitos Bay.

On July 13, vandals stuffed whole rolls of toilet paper down toilets at a Marine Stadium facility, causing a 300-gallon spill that closed Alamitos Bay and Colorado Lagoon for three days.

In June, a 16,000- to 17,000-gallon sewage spill in Glendale flowed down the L.A. River, closing a 1.75-mile stretch west of Belmont Pier.

In January, a spill near downtown L.A. dumped 73,000 gallons of raw sewage into the river, closing off city beaches from 3rd Place in Alamitos Beach to 72nd Place on the Peninsula.

The city reported two beach closures as a result of sewage spills in 2007. One was from a broken city sewer line and the other was from a malfunctioning pump station, said environmental health specialist Hans Tritten.

But Tritten said the number of spills isn't necessarily growing.

"We're getting better at reporting them," he said.

Tritten said L.A. County officials in the last year have cracked down on private contractors and city agencies, requiring them to report all sewage spills within hours.

"Now we're hearing about 10-gallon spills," he said. "We hear about spills all the time."

The news was hardly comforting to those hoping to swim on Wednesday.

"We're disappointed," said Sandra Torres, who drove out from Gardena with her 4-year-old cousin. "I guess we'll just have to stay out of the water today."

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