After a technical breakdown at a water treatment facility on Sunday, 17 million gallons of untreated sewage flowed into the ocean, closing beaches in Los Angeles.

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Releasing Untreated Water

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The Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, a sewage treatment plant on Santa Monica Bay, was forced to release untreated sewage via a conduit that deposited it a mile (1.6 kilometers) offshore and barely 50 feet (15.2 meters) below the ocean's surface on Sunday, according to operators. (The plant's standard pipe dumps treated sewage into the ocean five miles [eight kilometers] offshore and 190 feet [58 meters] deep.) According to a Hyperion spokesman, it was the most sewage discharged out of that single small pipe in a decade. According to the plant's managers, the leak accounted for just 6% of the plant's daily sewage load.

Precautionary Measures

Residents should avoid swimming at some beaches, according to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. It also stated that water samples had been taken to test for germs and that beaches may reopen if the tests were negative. Although preliminary tests conducted Monday revealed no significant levels of fecal contamination, the beaches remain closed until more testing is completed.

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Discussing the Issue

In a Q&A on their website, Heal the Bay, a conservation group, said, "We have heard from many worried folx that they were at the beaches on Sunday evening and Monday all day without any awareness of the spill, or any opportunity to take measures." "Raw sewage bacteria and viruses are very hazardous to humans and can spread a range of illnesses. In addition, when dumped into the Bay, waste like tampons and plastic garbage can contain germs and entangle wildlife, but it appears that in this case, such debris was effectively filtered out of the spill before it reached the Bay."

Unknown Cause

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Plant officials are unsure what transpired at Hyperion to trigger the massive sewage spill. However, on Sunday, screens in the treatment facilities became clogged with a large amount of material, effectively stopping the entire treatment process. Plant workers attempted to reroute the sewage through a storm drain system to keep the treatment process running. Still, the sewage was just too much, and the facility's overflow system was forced to release the 17 million gallons down the small pipe during an eight-hour period.

The Hyperion plant, which has been in operation since 1894, is Los Angeles' largest treatment facility. The facility dumps 260 million gallons of treated wastewater, enough to fill the Rose Bowl 2.5 times, into the Pacific Ocean every day through the 5-mile pipe.

Dumping Waters

A phosphogypsum stack located in nearby Fort Meade, Florida. The Piney Point stack encloses wastewater.
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Although the untreated sewage leaked last week is a public health danger, there is a genuine discussion about whether the treated water may benefit a state experiencing an unprecedented drought. A Los Angeles judge ordered the California Water Resources Control Board to determine whether it is "wasteful" and "unreasonable" to dump all that water in the ocean when it might be utilized elsewhere last August. As a result, city authorities prioritized wastewater recycling to draw 70% of Los Angeles' drinking water from treated wastewater by 2035. And, with the state's (and the West's) reservoirs being drained by a severe drought, solving the water problem can't come fast enough. Even if the answer appears to be a little revolting.

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