After years of upstream sewage spills forcing Long Beach to close its beaches, the City Council voted Tuesday night to look at options for holding agencies and businesses accountable for future spills.
The city has already had to close its beaches twice in 2023 due to sewage spills. The most recent spill in Downey sent 250,000 gallons of waste into local waterways that ultimately washed down to the Long Beach coastline, prompting beach closures on Earth Day weekend.
Councilmember Kristina Duggan, who represents Belmont Shore, Naples and other waterfront communities, requested the city look at options, saying that beach closures have harmed the city economically as well as its reputation.
“We do not want to have the reputation of having contaminated water,” Duggan said Tuesday.
Long Beach is unique because its geographic location between the mouths of two rivers, the Los Angles and San Gabriel. Beach closures are typical for Long Beach when it rains because debris and other pollutants from upriver are discharged into the ocean, which can make bacterial levels in the waters off the city unsafe for humans. Raw sewage washing into the river channels also routinely forces the city to close its beaches.
Duggan requested a report be sent to the council’s Climate, Environment and Coastal Protection Committee, which she chairs, with details about how the spills have affected public health, the city’s bottom line and the social effects for residents due to closed beaches.
The report could also have more details about water quality projects the city is undertaking with funding from the countywide Measure W tax. That report could be before the committee in the next 120 days.
City officials will also work with the Los Angeles Regional Quality Control Board to compile a list of recent spills, the origins, closures caused by the spills and the costs incurred by them.
But the real impact of Duggan’s request could come from the city attorney’s office looking into how the city could go after compensatory damages from businesses and agencies that are found responsible for future spills.
City Attorney Dawn McIntosh told the Long Beach Post last week that while the regional water control board is typically the body that enforces water quality violations, there could be ways for the city to sue, but it was too new of a topic to know for sure. Her office, she said, would be looking into it.
The city was part of a $537.5 million settlement announced in December after it and other agencies sued Monsanto for polluting waterways with chemicals now known to be harmful. The class action suit involved over 2,500 agencies and was originally filed by the city in 2016.
The city is in the middle of building a $30 million stormwater treatment plant named “LB-MUST” (Municipal Urban Stormwater Treatment), which will divert and treat potentially contaminated stormwater runoff before it enters the ocean.
The project will be next to the Los Angeles River, but its completion has been slowed due to the storms that hit the city during early 2023, according to the city.
Another stormwater capture project is in the works at Skylinks Golf Course in East Long Beach. That roughly $10 million project would treat water that is bound for the San Gabriel River channel.
The countywide Measure W tax approved by voters in 2018 was projected to generate about $5 million annually for Long Beach for clean water projects, and Duggan’s request also called for a status update on Measure W-funded projects.
At least some of those updates will go to the Climate, Environment, and Coastal Protection Committee for review before a full council discussion in the future. The committee has yet to meet since being renamed and having new members appointed in February.