Malibu Bans Septic Systems to Protect Surfers

It’s hard to believe a famous city like Malibu, California would still have polluting septic systems. With 21-miles of coastline, Malibu is a favorite spot for surfers and water enthusiasts. The Malibu Surfing Association has led the way in getting the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to “prohibit the release of pollutants and chemicals into Malibu’s groundwater“.

Surfers' health compromised by Malibu septic systems
Surfers’ health compromised by Malibu septic systems

A properly maintained septic system in a rural location with appropriate soil does not pose a threat to groundwater; however, “one-half of all septic tanks in operation are not functioning correctly”. The problem is compounded when septic systems exist in “high density” communities, such as Malibu. It is not only individual home septic systems plaguing Malibu’s water, but commercial buildings with on-site sewage disposal systems are also a problem. The University of Southern California explains the Water Quality Control Board’s decision:

The board’s vote will prohibit commercial and residential buildings surrounding the Malibu civic center from discharging pollution into groundwater.

Polluted wastewater is discharged when buildings have on-site systems for sewage disposal that leak when capacity is reached.

Commercial buildings will need to comply with the prohibition by 2015. Residential buildings will have until 2019 to comply.

Surfers have gotten sick from sewage in the waters off of Malibu’s coast. Over ten years ago, Ken Seino got a serious infection that required a pacemaker to save his life from the polluted waters he surfed in Malibu. Surfer describes Seino’s condition:

Surfer Ken Seino, a member of the Malibu Surfing Assn., pulled open his shirt to show a scar on his upper-left chest, where he had a pacemaker implanted. That was necessary, he said, because of the viral myocarditis he contracted after paddling through raw sewage at Surfrider Beach in the summer of 1997. β€œI smelled it, I tasted it, and it was ugly,” Seino, 53, said. β€œI regurgitated before I could paddle to the sand.” He said he eventually needed a pacemaker. β€œI will die before my time because of this infection,” he said.


This is not the first time California surfers have been responsible for cleaning up coastal waters. In 1989, the Surfrider Foundation sued pulp mills in Humboldt Bay that resulted in nearly $5.8 million in Clean Water Act fines and forced the mills to clean up their toxic pollution. Today, the pulp mill, the “only chlorine-free/dioxin-free mill in the United States” thanks to the surfers, is now closed.

Written by Jennifer Lance

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