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Surfers win big victory as septic tanks banned in Malibu

November 6, 2009 |  6:39 am

In a big victory for surfers and environmentalists, officials have agreed to ban septic tanks in portions of Malibu.

Hundreds attended a nearly 10-hour meeting. 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.

"I smelled it, I tasted it, and it was ugly," Seino, 53, said. "I regurgitated before I could paddle to the sand." He said he eventually needed a pacemaker.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board agreed late Thursday to ban septic systems in central and eastern Malibu, a move that would end years of fierce debate over the wastewater devices still commonly used in one of Southern California's most picturesque and exclusive coastal communities.

New septic systems will not be permitted in Malibu and owners of existing systems will have to halt wastewater discharges within a decade.

While many had come to view the septic systems as a strange but effective check against rapid growth in a community beloved for its thinly populated canyons and wide-open ocean vistas, others saw the devices as Third World contrivances that have fouled the community's watershed and popular beaches.

The plan adopted Thursday was hammered out on the fly -- a blend of the water board's own proposal, an alternative pushed by the city and suggestions from the boisterous gathering at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The shift to a sewer system comes at considerable expense. Residents in affected areas would be required to pay about $500 a month to cover the cost of hooking into a central sewage system, according to the city's projections. And businesses would face payments of up to $20,000 a month.

The compromise, however, shrinks the affected area and gives business owners and residents alike more time to hook into a central wastewater treatment system. Property owners in commercial areas will have to comply by 2015, and residents in Malibu Knolls, Serra Retreat and other residential areas will have until 2019.

Read the full story here.

--Martha Groves

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