Reforms Underway in Sewage Spill Reporting Process

A series of improvements and reforms are currently underway in how sewage spills across Los Angeles County are reported to the public and to health workers. These reforms come just weeks after the results of a disturbing investigation were released that revealed numerous breakdowns in the way local sewage spills are reported and recorded. The extensive investigation was called for by Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe after a series of sewage spills along the Santa Monica Bay in recent months.

As part of the investigation, it was discovered that since January 2002, over 11.6 million gallons of raw sewage had spilled from wastewater treatment systems throughout local watersheds 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.

The investigation also revealed numerous failed communication protocols between local wastewater operators and public health crews within the County, including lack of understanding at the local level as to which agencies must be contacted immediately after a spill and lack of clear policies within the County about contacting first responders after normal business hours.

As a result of this investigation, Supervisor 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 these inactions may have caused.

Many of the reforms recommended by Supervisor Knabe are already underway or completed, including:

– The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has communicated with all 88 cities in the County reminding them of their legal obligations about timely reporting of sewage spills to health response teams.

– Clear protocols are now in place for reaching public health response crews after regular business hours and on the weekends.

– A database system has been created to track spills when they happen, where they happen, the severity of the spill and the steps that were taken to warn the public and protect the environment.

– Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) has introduced legislation to amend State law to resolve issues uncovered during the investigation that are beyond the County’s legal authority to address and correct.

I’m happy to report these reforms are already starting to take hold and create positive change, said Supervisor Knabe. What I’m most proud of though is the support of Assemblyman Ted Lieu.

Many of the reforms that need to happen are things that we can’t control locally. They have to happen at the State level through Legislative reform. Assemblyman Lieu believes in these reforms and supports making these needed changes to the law.