On Wednesday, Nov. 29, approximately 95,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled out along our coastline areas from Laguna Avenue to Blue Lagoon.
With the area polluted by our very own human waste, I couldn’t help but think about our fragile ecosystem and what effect this will have, both short term and long term, for our aquatic life, not to mention the quality-of-life issues for the folks who live along the beach and the many businesses that rely on it. I can’t stop asking myself, how could we let this happen?
When Amplify Energy spilled thousands of gallons of oil in our ocean, killing land and marine life and closing businesses, we were all rightly outraged. What happens in our state and federal waters is out of our control. We rely on the good actors, or, in Amplify’s case, the bad actors, to maintain their infrastructure and to sound the alarms immediately in the event of a failure to minimize the impact. But in this case, the spill of raw sewage now polluting our shores and water is our fault. We have no one to blame but ourselves. And it’s not the first time. As recently as November 2019, one million gallons of sewage spilled into the ocean near Aliso Beach. Some have suggested this November timeframe has to do with the city’s strategy for managing runoff in the winter.
Recently, David Shissler, a civil engineer with many years of experience in building and maintaining sewer facilities and training employees, retired as the city’s director of the Water Quality Department. Under his management, the department was divided into two divisions, one handling sewers and the other handling stormwater infrastructure. The city has since rolled these divisions into the Department of Public Works and Utilities. Instead of finding and hiring the top candidate to focus on our water quality, the city eliminated Shissler’s position. To me, this seems to indicate that water quality and public health and safety are less of a priority.
I would think bringing on an experienced engineer and ensuring we have the latest and greatest technology, infrastructure and staff would be among the city’s top priorities. Instead, we chose to have a void in leadership by eliminating positions, all while having old and failing infrastructure. In a town where ocean water quality is a public priority, how should we interpret this coastal city eliminating the department with that sole responsibility?
Judie Mancuso, Laguna Beach