LA councilman blames irresponsible trash disposal for 17-million gallon sewage spill

After an overwhelming amount of debris inundated the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and caused a 17-million gallon sewage spill, Councilman Paul Krekorian blasted irresponsible members of the public for not properly disposing of trash and called for the city to come up with ways to prevent future incidents.

"The source of this problem was not some failure by employees, it was not some failure of infrastructure, it was people doing stupid, irresponsible things. It was people doing irresponsible things and then expecting mommy-government to clean up after them,'' Krekorian said during the
Los Angeles City Council's Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River Committee meeting.

Noting "litter in the streets, illegally dumped construction materials, things being flushed down the toilet that everybody knows shouldn't be flushed down the toilet," Krekorian called for the LASAN's investigation into the spill to include how to stop the public from doing "stupid things and then expecting government to fix it.''

"In a city of this size, we cannot have the taxpayers continue to invest billions of dollars in new infrastructure and then having that entire process be ruined by irresponsible people who are dumping things down manhole covers, dumping things in the street, dumping things down their toilets.'' 

The committee heard a report from LA Sanitation and Environment Wednesday on the July 11 sewage spill into the Pacific Ocean. Councilman and committee chair Mitch O'Farrell visited the facility on Tuesday to see the damage at the facility.

"We must continue to educate our constituents about the importance of proper waste disposal, continue to lobby for state and federal policymakers for whatever upgrades or whatever fixes to the system as it exists,'' O'Farrell said.

O'Farrell noted that companies are also responsible for the spill, as some falsely advertise their products as flushable. O'Farrell and Krekorian introduced a resolution to the City Council in support of a Senate bill that would mitigate the effects of "greenwashing."

RELATED: Beaches between El Segundo, Dockweiler reopen after 17M gallons of sewage spilled into ocean forced closure

"I saw so-called disposable wipes in high numbers floating through the soon-to-be treated water in the filtration systems that the (Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant) now have back up and running,'' O'Farrell said.  

The committee advanced a motion introduced by Councilmen Mitch O'Farrell and Paul Koretz to instruct the city's sanitation department to submit a report on how public notification can be improved after the department and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health did not immediately notify the public about the spill. The motion also instructs LASAN to look for engineering opportunities during repairs to begin transforming the facility to recycle 100% of wastewater as part of the city's Operation NEXT. 

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, on Tuesday called for an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the massive sewage spill.

"Given the severity of recent incidents, the subsequent and continued discharge of untreated and partially treated wastewater near highly trafficked beaches, and the lack of clear communication by the city of Los Angeles, an investigation into the facility's operations, response and environmental impact is warranted,'' Lieu wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan and NOAA Administrator Richard W. Spinard. The failure to more quickly notify the public of the spill, which
ultimately closed beaches from El Segundo to the southern end of Playa del Rey, was largely the fault of a division within the Department of Public Health, according to a report discussed by county officials on July 27.

The facility's staff followed protocols during the "once in a career'' event, and only their extraordinary efforts saved the plant in what the report called a "near miss,'' the report said. Personnel there reached out as required to the duty officer at the California Office of Emergency Services.

RELATED: Report on 17M gallon sewage spill blames LA County Public Health for failing to quickly notify public

That state agency shared some of the blame for the county's slow reaction, failing to make the severity of the problem clear to the numerous federal, state and local agencies they are charged with alerting, according to the analysis by Citygate Associates LLC, a public consulting firm. However, the deputy director of Department of Public Health's Environmental Health Program took full responsibility for the cascade of events that followed the emergency release of sewage, according to a July 19 report.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer offered an apology of her own to the Board of Supervisors and the public.

"There's no excuse for this,'' Ferrer said of the slow reaction. "It's just multiple failure on top of multiple failure.''