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L.A. River Cleanup Focuses on 2 Drains

Sanitation: Trash filters will be part of $1.4-million plan to control skid row runoff. The state is requiring cities to curb discharge into the ocean.
LA Times Staff Writer J. Mozingo

LOS ANGELES November 17, 2000 — Next to a stream of unidentifiable white goop seeping into the Los Angeles River, city and state officials in Thursday announced a $1.4-million project t to clean up two of the city’s worst storm drains-the ones serving skid row.

The drains that empty at 6th and 8th streets collect runoff from a 1,000-acre area of downtown Los Angeles where numerous food processors and more than 3,000 homeless people are the main polluters officials said. The storm pipes empty into the concrete-lined river on prewar bridges and switching yards, and all the trash and pollution eventually flows into the ocean.

White oozy discharge coming from the 8th Street storm drain flows into the LA River
(click for larger view)
That will now change, under a 10-year plan from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board to force measures to drastically cut the flow of contaminated runoff.

Los Angeles sanitation officials say the project is their first step toward complying with that discharge proposal, which would impose penalties on cities that do not control the problem.

The wastewater project will include permanent $300,000 filters at each outlet to catch trash. It also will use a system to divert the runoff to the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant from April to October-when no bacteria or industrial pollution should drain into the river from the area, officials said.

"But we just don’t have the capacity to do that during the rainy season," said Judy Wilson, director of the Bureau of Sanitation for Los Angeles.

During rainy parts of the year, the runoff will still go through the filter system, where heavy materials will be sifted into a sump tank. Lighter materials, such as foam cups and plastic bags, will be stopped from flowing into the river by a grate. Bacteria and toxic wastes will flow free to the beach.

"We estimate that these will collect about 1,000 cubic yards of trash every year," said Gary Lee Moore, Stormwater Program manager for the Department of Public Works.

The California Environmental Protection Agency plans to contribute $584,000 to the entire project. The Los Angeles River work should take two years to complete, Wilson said.

There are almost 1,000 storm drains emptying into the river, including about 200 large ones like those at 6th and 8th streets, officials said. They added that installing such facilities at each outlet would be prohibitively expensive and that they must, instead, try to stop people from illegally littering and discharging waste into the streets.

In a place like skid row, where people live on sidewalks and alleys and public toilets are scarce, sanitation officials didn’t see an easy way to stop the pollution at the source.

Everything you see here is the result of illegal dumping," said Wilson, pointing to scattered clumps of wet debris and trash that smelled like a foul marina.

Dennis Dickerson, executive officer of the regional board, said governments are going to have to install many such filter systems in the future, as regulations to curb storm runoff get tighter.

"It’s going to be a long, protracted effort to obtain our goals," he said. "But it’s being done in other urban areas and right here, you’re seeing the first steps on the L.A. River."

The 6th Street storm drain outlet
Bureau of Sanitation Director Judith Wilson addresses the media.
Standing with her are Linda Moulton-Patterson (CalEPA) and Dennis Dickerson (LARWQCB).