David Shissler, director of water quality, looks through an 8x6-inch PVC wye pipe as he poses for a photo at his office in Laguna Beach on Tuesday. Wyes similar to this were used to connect homes and businesses to the city's water collection system. (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline Pilot / February 4, 2014)

  • Related
  • Bryce Alderton Signature

  • Topics
  • Laws and Legislation
  • Environmental Politics
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Aging pipes and pesky roots have Laguna Beach officials seeking more stringent guidelines to control costs and guard against potential sewage spills.

Ten years ago Laguna Beach was at the forefront of keeping its sewer pipes clean. The city made some changes after frequent spills put it under close scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency, Laguna Beach Water Quality Director David Shissler said.

"We had spills almost twice a week," said Shissler, who started with the city 11 years ago.

The EPA fined Laguna, which was a wake-up call to closely monitor its vast labyrinth of below-ground pipes, while educating residents about the importance of maintaining their own sewer lines.

The city toughened regulations that detailed what residents and business owners were responsible for related to upkeep of pipes in hopes of preventing blockages and wastewater from entering storm drains.

For example, every property owner with a private sewer line is responsible for all presentative and corrective pipe maintenance, including connection to the public sewer. That might include but is not limited to periodic video inspection, cleaning, repair or replacement of the line and connection joint.

After a decade of growth and development, the city is again considering more-vigilant rules to help prevent sewer spills and avoid costly repairs. Laguna Beach officials are calling on homeowners, businesses and Realtors to help.

About 20 Realtors gathered in City Council chambers last week for a workshop about the proposed changes and possible incentives.

City staff is considering requiring inspections of private sewer lines during a home's sale, after a spill and during major home renovations.

Another change would require residents to install back-flow devices — valves that prevent contaminated water from reverse flowing through pipes — with any major home remodel, or if dirtied water backs up into a home or business.

The city may also mandate inspections of back-flow devices during a home's sale.

Realtors objected to requiring inspections of sewer lines as part of a sale, calling it a deal breaker.

Inspections can cost $150 to $350, Shissler said.

"If someone is desperate to sell the home, this could keep them from selling it," said Bob Hartman, a Realtor who attended the workshop. "I do not have a concern with [the city] tightening up the ordinance, saying to the homeowner, 'Hey, this is a problem, you've got to correct it.'"

While the city isn't responsible for maintaining homeowners' sewer pipes, it wants residents to know that a blockage below their house can wreak havoc to the overall system.

Every home and business has a pipe that drains wastewater to the public sewer line, which delivers sewage to a wastewater treatment plant.

Private property owners are responsible for maintaining their pipes, including the connection point to the main public line, according to the city, which maintains 95 miles of sewer lines and 25 lift stations from Cardinal Drive north to Irvine Cove.

Crews clean all parts of the public sewer system at least once a year, while some parts receive treatment every three or six months, Shissler said.

The city spent $30 million in the last 10 years on sewer infrastructure improvements, including lining pipes and repairing lift stations.

The cause of many private sewer line backups are tree roots finding their way into residents' sewer lines.