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Bacteria increase at beaches near Hyperion sewage discharge triggers a warning

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High bacteria levels at beaches near the site of a massive sewage discharge in Playa del Rey have prompted Los Angeles County health officials to issue a warning about going in the water.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health did not rule out a link between the 17-million-gallon sewage release from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant on July 11 and the rise in bacteria.

But a connection was “unlikely,” given the currents and the more than two weeks that have elapsed since the incident, the department said.

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The warning, issued Wednesday evening, cautioned people at El Segundo Beach and Dockweiler State Beach to be “careful of swimming, surfing, and playing in ocean waters around discharging storm drains, creeks and rivers.”

Sampling conducted on Tuesday indicated that bacteria levels in the water exceeded state standards.

Several factors could play a role in the increase in bacteria, including a smattering of unexpected rain in parts of Southern California on Monday.

Santa Monica Pier and Avalon Beach on Catalina Island, as well as several storm drains at Santa Monica Beach and Will Rogers State Beach, were included in the warning.

Elevated bacteria levels there were “very likely” due to day-to-day fluctuations, with “no reason to suspect” the sewage discharge, the warning said.

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Earlier this month, the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant spewed more than 17 million gallons of raw sewage into the ocean after filters became clogged with debris. The discharge, about a mile offshore, was necessary to avoid a total shutdown of the plant, L.A. city sanitation officials said.

As the plant, which was severely flooded, undergoes at least a month of repairs, residents in nearby El Segundo have complained of noxious smells and symptoms including headaches and burning eyes.

The city of L.A., which runs the Hyperion plant, is reimbursing El Segundo residents for air conditioners if they stay in their homes, or hotel vouchers if they would rather leave. County health employees will be going door-to-door through Friday in neighborhoods experiencing odors from the plant.

The health department faced criticism for waiting hours to inform the public to avoid swimming near the sewage release.

El Segundo and Dockweiler beaches were closed for several days, reopening July 15 after water samples met state standards.

Shelley Luce, chief executive officer of Heal the Bay, agreed that it’s unclear whether the sewage discharge caused the recent bacteria spike.

But she is concerned about the sewage’s “near-term” effects on the beaches.

County health officials are testing nearby waters daily, rather than weekly, “due to ongoing public concerns about the safety of the ocean water.”

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