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Bacteria Contamination at Huntington City and State Beaches

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On July 1, 1999, the Orange County Health Officer closed a portion of Huntington State Beach because of high densities of indicator bacteria indicative of sewage contamination. Over the following two months bacteria contamination caused the closure of nearly four miles of city and state beaches.

A risk-based approach sanitary survey was implemented in order to identify the source of contamination. Potential sources were ranked from very high, high, medium or low in terms of the potential that the source would contain human waste and the concentration of indicator bacteria in that source. This approach assisted in decision making with regard to deployment of resources for the source investigation.

The investigation looked at potential onshore, offshore and groundwater sources of indicator bacteria. State-of-the-art technologies such as ground penetrating radar, sonar, and infrared imaging were used to search for unmapped pipes or geologic anomalies that could serve as a route of transport of the contaminated water to the beach. Conventional techniques such as geo-probes (hydropunches), closed circuit television of sewer lines and monitoring wells were also used in the investigation.

The initial beach closure was due to the suspicion that sewage had contaminated the beach. Ongoing closures and the length of the closure period were due to new beach standards established by state legislation, Assembly Bill 411. A review of the previous year's monitoring data showed that had the new standards been effect in 1998, there would have been nearly 100 days between April 1 and October 31 when the AB 411 standards would have been exceeded.

Much was learned from this experience about conducting a source investigation, the impact of the new legislation, the importance of interagency cooperation, open communication with the press and the public and the economic impact of beach closures.

A task force of local government agencies was formed to identify funding sources for identifying and implementing mitigation measures and coordination of ongoing investigative efforts.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2000

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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