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Cleanup Gets Underway After Storm Catch Basins Limit Runoff

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — County officials Monday worked to clean out storm catch basins throughout Southern California following a wave of late-season storms over the weekend.

Evacuation orders were lifted Sunday in Glendora and Azusa after an estimated 1,000 homes north of Sierra Madre Boulevard were evacuated over the weekend.

As the storm that battered the Southland tapered off, debris basins diverted several hundred thousand cubic yards of runoff material “that otherwise would have been in communities,” according to Bob Spencer of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

RELATED: Heavy Downpour Causes Mudslide In Glendora

Runoff channels first enter into catch basins before they merge into storm drains, which essentially act as overflow systems, according to city environmental officials. Some of the pollution entering storm drains can include fertilizers, cigarette butts, trash, pesticides, chlorine, automotive fluids, used oil, paint, chemicals, animal waste, and decomposing organic matter, officials said.

Spencer told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO foothill residents who were spared any major damage can thank about 26 major debris basins throughout ranging in size from 35,000 cubic yards to as large as 100,000 cubic yards.

“There’s a lot of detritus in it, it’s been scorched and burnt, all of the nutrients have been burned completely out of it,” Spencer said. “So it’s a little bit like sand, there’s not much you can do with it.”

Much of the debris flows will be used to fill sediment placement sites throughout Los Angeles County, but according to Spencer, officials have already begun to look for future sites.

“They’re beginning to fill up, so we’re looking for other areas through the county,” he said. “That’s one of our long-term management plans for sediment.”

K Walls are expected to stay in place in areas of Azusa for at least three years, giving the fire-torched hillsides time to repair themselves naturally.

Resident of the Ridge View community in Azusa, Dennis Sanderson, hung a sign in front of his house that read “Thank You From Ridge View” for the workers who have been toiling away at the tons of mud that intruded the neighborhood over the weekend.

“My father always said that we need to help out,” Heinlein said. “That’s where I learned it from, so I’m trying to pay that forward.”

Another resident, Ed Heinlein, who had much of the mud end up at his home, said he had suggestions for the county to consider if they were to be more prepared for the next storm.

“If there had been some sort of sewage system or drainage up here, with this situation, we think we would avert a lot of (the mud),” Heinlein said.

The mountains were not the only Southland areas which now need need the attention of cleanup crews.

The coastline was hit equally hard, eating away yards of beach in some spots, and creating sanitation issues of their own.

In Malibu, 25 feet of beach was taken out by heavy surf, due to the storm. Even worse conditions were found just north in Zuma Beach.

“I have never seen it this way, and I walk down here all the time,” one resident said. “It didn’t even look like Zuma Beach.”

While Winter beach erosion is typical in the first months of the new year, South-facing beaches took a special beating.

“We had sort of a perfect storm,” LA County Fire Dept. Capt. Jeff Horn said. “We had a combination of high tides and large surf, and that’s usually what it takes to lose beach. And so we had a lot of beach that was lost over Saturday and Sunday.”

During the summer months at Zuma Beach, there are typically 50 to 60 yards of beach that extend down to the water, but with high tide on Monday, that was down to 10 yards.

Residents in Malibu, meanwhile, are still facing the issue of losing parts of their balconies to the sea.

“Our stairs that go all the way down to the beach have drifted out to sea,” resident Meredith Root said.

Another issue is the bacteria-infested urban runoff, that typically drains into the ocean during heavy storms. On Monday, however, a study from UCLA’s ‘Heal the Bay’ says the general wait time of three days to allow the water to balance may not be enough time.

The study suggests swimmers stay out of the water for five to ten days, instead.

County health officials Monday also issued an advisory that people should avoid going into the ocean in the vicinity of storm drains and river through at least Wednesday.

The hope is that the pollution carried by the recent rainfall will have balanced out with the ocean’s water by that time.

In bays, creeks and lagoon outlets, bacteria generally rises in the water, according to the county Department of Public Health.

Debris, trash, animal waste, city streets and mountain areas generally create the urban runoff that is known to contain large amounts of bacteria.

“We do advise swimmers and surfers to stay away from the storm drains, creeks and rivers as there is the possibility that bacteria or chemicals from debris and trash may contaminate the water near and around these areas, and some individuals may become ill,” public health director Jonathan E. Fielding said.

Areas of the beach that are separate from discharging storm drains, creeks or rivers, are not included in the advisory.

Over 100 beaches have storm drains in Los Angeles county.

More information on the advisory and the effect of storms on local beaches can be viewed at the LA County Public Health webpage.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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