Some surfers and visitors disregarded beach closure signs

Some surfers and visitors disregarded beach closure signs informing them of a sewerage spill last week. Linda Mar Beach has since been reopened.

Linda Mar Beach has reopened after being closed for five days following torrential rain that caused sewer overflows into the ocean. In all, the state says nearly 3 million gallons overflowed the city’s infrastructure. It was far and away the largest spill as a result of the wet weather anywhere in the region.

The beach was closed on Oct. 24 after the storm dumped 6.87 inches of rain on Pacifica. It reopened on Friday with permission from the county’s environmental health services.

The city experienced significant impacts from the storm that hit the Bay Area over the weekend of Oct. 23 and 24, which included water intrusion into the city’s sewer system. That overwhelmed the city’s Linda Mar Pump Station, Petersen wrote in a press release issued on Friday. 

Petersen said the Linda Mar Pump Station remained functioning. As has happened in the past with large storm events, the city was forced to bypass some of the pump station flow to the beach outfall pipe. Once this occurs, the city is required to close Pacifica State Beach for a minimum of three days or until ocean bacteria testing results allow for reopening. The San Mateo County Health Department notified the city on the afternoon of Oct. 29 that the beach could be reopened to the public following review of the ocean testing, Petersen wrote.

The city’s equalization basin filled to capacity. The EQ basin allowed the Calera Creek Water Recycling Plant to continue to operate without failures and process 17 million gallons a day when it typically processes 4 million gallons a day, Petersen wrote.

City officials pointed to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggesting the storm was a once-in-100-years event. However, experts warn that climate change makes it difficult to base policy and infrastructure decisions on past weather data. 

After the spill, the city was required to test the water off Linda Mar Beach daily and submit these results to the county. Once those levels were acceptable, the county would allow the city to reopen the beach, Petersen wrote.

The city has not been fined for the environmental breach, she wrote. She said other cities in the Bay Area had to bypass their sewer systems.

“A recent NPR report said it was 50 (cities) in the Bay Area that had to bypass due to this historic rainfall event. The water board often will not fine for unusually large weather events, such as this,” Petersen wrote.

City Manager Kevin Woodhouse wrote in last week’s e-newsletter that years of preparation combined to prevent major flooding in the Linda Mar area from the historic storm. That work included improvements to wastewater infrastructure, replacing sewer mains, construction of the 2.1 million-gallon wet weather equalization basin, sewer lateral replacements by residents, and annually cleaning the creeks, channels and inlets of debris. The storm on Dec. 11, 2014, flooded parts of Linda Mar with only 4 inches of rain, he noted.

But the extreme amount of rain in a short time did exceed the capacity of the basin and the Linda Mar pump station. Consequently, a mixture of mostly stormwater and some wastewater discharged to the ocean. Protective measures and health monitoring were put in place at the beach and ensured a safe reopening of the beach, Woodhouse wrote.

Gregory J. Smith, supervisor of water protection and land use programs for San Mateo County Environmental Health Services, wrote in an email to the Tribune that when there is a report of a sanitary sewer overflow the Public Works Department reports it to the California State Warning Center, as well as to the county’s environmental health services. If the impact is to a swimming beach, Public Works also posts a “Beach Closed” sign. Public Works then coordinates with the county’s environmental health services on sampling the ocean water to evaluate when the beach can be reopened.

“The samples are submitted to the county’s public health laboratory for enumeration of total coliform, e.Coli and enterococci bacteria,” he wrote. “Those are the sample indicator parameters that environmental health services evaluated in our weekly sampling of swimming beaches.”

Jane Northrop has covered Pacifica for the Pacifica Tribune since 1996. She has won first place John Swett Awards from the California Teachers Association for her coverage of education.

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