Laguna Canyon Road closes to traffic after water main break

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Laguna Beach public works crews move mud in the 2900 block of Laguna Canyon Road after a water main break sent debris downhill early Wednesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Laguna Canyon Road reopened to traffic Wednesday afternoon after a water main break sent mud on the highway, forcing an 11-hour closure that closed businesses and triggered some canyon residents’ memories of deadly debris flows.

The Laguna Beach County Water District was repairing the break between two water tanks at Top of the World and West Ridge Trail. As a precaution, the Laguna Beach Fire Department issued an evacuation warning to about a dozen homes in the area.

The water flow from the water main caused mud and other debris to flow down a ravine onto Laguna Canyon Road. The water main was closed within 30 minutes of water district officials learning of the break, Laguna Beach County Water District General Manager Keith Van Der Maaten said.

A Laguna Beach Nixle alert of the road closure was first issued at 3:39 a.m. and reissued at 6:39 a.m. Motorists were asked to find alternate routes and no other details were immediately shared.

Water district officials found the water spewed from a crack in a 16-inch PVC pipe.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever get to the exact cause of why it cracked,” Van Der Maaten said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. An investigation into the spill is ongoing, he added.

A layer of mud sat to the side of Laguna Canyon Road near Langlois Frozen Foods and Victoria Skimboards on Wednesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Public works and water district employees were using a bobcat and front loader to scrape up mud and load it into a waiting dump truck to be hauled away. The highway was open to traffic in both directions by 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, according to a Laguna Beach Nixle alert.

An Instagram story posted by the Laguna Beach Firefighters Association shows firefighters observing water running onto the 2900 block of Laguna Canyon Road before dawn. The outflow poured over a vacant property that hosted a home destroyed in the 1998 debris flow.

Tex Haines, owner of Victoria Skimboards, woke up to firefighters banging on his door around 3:30 a.m. to inform him he may have to evacuate. The mud didn’t come close to reaching his front door.

“We just went into flood mode and made sure the drain out front wasn’t clogged,” Haines said. “It sounded like a good-sized waterfall last night.”

Haines hiked up the doused watershed but saw very little damage from the water main break on Wednesday morning. By 9 a.m., he was still hopeful Laguna Canyon Road would reopen so his employees could get to his skimboard shop by its usual noon opening time.

Canyon Porsche was closed because customers couldn’t get through police checkpoints. An auto body repair business that subleases the commercial property was also closed.

Gavin Heath, a nearly 30-year canyon resident and former Sawdust Art Festival president, said he woke up to the sound of his next-door neighbor’s dogs barking. Initially, he suspected it was another traffic collision. He walked out his front gate and found water running onto the road.

“This is a problem for everyone. It’s not just ours,” Heath said before walking to downtown for an appointment.

Despite the occasional car crash, vegetation fire, or flood closing the only road, Heath said he can’t imagine leaving his canyon home.

“It’s pretty tranquil and beautiful. I surf and sometimes it’s pretty wild out there but I like the nature. I’m passionate about this place,” he said.

About 30 families were able to make it to Laguna Food Pantry after being waved through a police checkpoint at El Toro Road. The nonprofit has recently served an average of 160 families per day. It’s unclear how many people returned home after finding the road closed, Food Pantry executive director Anne Belyea said.

Volunteers took detours on Coast Highway to show up and help unload boxes of groceries donated by Second Harvest Food Bank and local supermarkets on Wednesday.

This story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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