USGS Begins Its Second Phase of Water Testing with Malibu
• Municipal Officials Hope for New Ammunition to Challenge RWQCB Thinking
Utilizing some of the “newest and most sophisticated DNA testing available to measure sources of bacteria in water,” the U.S. Geological Survey has again partnered with Malibu to undertake a $406,400 wet weather study to obtain additional data of the water quality of Lower Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon and at Surfrider Beach, city officials announced recently.
The study is an attempt by the municipality to further strengthen the argument that Malibu’s septic systems are not contributing to the pollution of the creek, lagoon and ocean by scientifically demonstrating there is no evidence of human bacteria in the area’s various bodies of water.
The issue is central to the disagreement between the city and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which issued a septic prohibition, in part, on the basis of human contamination of area waters.
The city argues that previous studies did not show the actual source of the polluted waterways, but rather demonstrated the presence of what is called indicator bacteria. The USGS study is the second in its series of studies on area waters using a device known as the Phylochip, manufactured by a private corporation in conjunction with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory staff.
According to the manufacturer, the Phylochip can detect up to 32,000 unique versions of the 16S rRNA gene sequence, which is found in all bacteria. This enables the scientists to detect the actual sources of a wide array of bacteria in water samples.
If the wet weather studies come up with the same conclusions as the dry weather studies done last year, it could provide valuable ammunition for the city, which was not able to use the previous study results at the RWQCB hearing, at the state board meeting or possibly in court.
The city has asked the Regional Board to reconsider its ban and consider several scientific studies, some of which have been published since the board’s action.