The city of Laguna Beach will pay a $70,000 fine after being found responsible for a sewage spill of nearly 600,000 gallons last October.

City Manager Ken Frank claimed the city would not contest the fine. Water quality regulators could have levied a maximum potential fine of $5.9 million.

The water treatment facility that serves Laguna Beach is outside of the city. Instead, it is part of a regional agency that pumps sewage for nearly one million people, Frank said.

Frank explained that a bizarre situation occurred in October that led to the spill. The system went down, and 600,000 gallons of sewage ran into the ocean, “A valve failed, and shut down the entire system,” Frank said.

Laguna Beach responded right away by hiring a consulting team to get to the bottom of the problem. 

Frank hinted that the spill came from repairs conducted 15 years ago to these same valves.

“Some bolts were not tightened. They didn’t stick out though so there was no way to tell,” Frank said.

The bolts had been painted over, making it impossible to trouble shoot unless this spill happened. The city had been in the process of renovating the pump station, replacing four motors and four pumps before this accident.

In the aftermath of the spill, the city made the decision to spend approximately $1.5 million to rebuild the pump station.

The fine will come out of a “sewer fund” designated for future sewer projects.
“We won’t contest the fine,” Frank said. 

The fine will not affect the city’s budget.

“The city council saw this coming a few years ago. We set money aside,” Frank said.

Where most cities rely on sales tax revenue, Laguna Beach relies mostly on property taxes.

“We are better off than most cities in the state,” Frank said.

Louis Dettorre can be reached at