The state agency charged with monitoring sewerage spills, like the nearly 3 million-gallon spill in Pacifica on Oct. 24, says it’s too early to tell whether the city will face any fines or enforcement action as a result.
The overflow was sparked by six inches of rain in 24 hours, a deluge city officials characterized as a 1-in-100-year rain event. In all, 2.93 million gallons of rainwater and sewerage bypassed the Linda Mar pump station and flowed onto the beach. Another 44,000 gallons escaped from a manhole cover in Linda Mar at Peralta Road.
City Manager Kevin Woodhouse told the Tribune that 90 percent of the bypass was likely stormwater. He said the city’s equalization basin performed as designed and captured another 2.1 million gallons of sewer wet weather flow, keeping that from city streets. He noted that other municipalities in the region experienced similar problems.
Bill Johnson is head of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System enforcement for the California Regional Water Quality Control Board in the San Francisco region. He says the agency is waiting for a full technical report on the spill, which is due on Dec. 9, before coming to any conclusions.
“We have not yet received a full report explaining what happened in Pacifica,” Johnson wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Until we fully understand what happened, it’s much too soon to think about enforcement.
“What I can tell you is that Pacifica was not alone in experiencing significant stormwater inflow and infiltration into its sanitary sewer collection system, nor was it alone in experiencing a large overflow from its sanitary sewer collection system,” he wrote. “As a result of the recent storm, I know of at least seven other unauthorized discharges larger than 100,000 gallons throughout the San Francisco Bay Region and there were probably more.”
Johnson says the agency is compiling information about all spills in the area to determine whether any could have been avoided with better preparation. “We will decide our next steps only after looking carefully at everything that happened,” he wrote.
Even some of the city’s staunchest environmental champions concede that a lot of rain fell on the city that day. Lynn Adams has been working on cleaning up Pacifica’s beaches as president of the Pacific Beach Coalition. She gave credit to Pacifica’s personnel for doing the best they could under extraordinary circumstances.
“It is unfortunate but this extenuating circumstance may not have been avoidable,” she told the Tribune. “I know the city has invested a lot of money in the holding tank at the community center and was happy to hear that there wasn’t the usual flooding on Anza Drive. I think the important lesson here is to prepare as much as possible, but also to respect nature enough to know you can’t always tame the beast.”
Adams applauded city staff that worked around the clock that day to minimize flooding. She also suggested residents look into installing rain barrels and rain gardens to help minimize water diverted from home sites.
“We should all support funding for more sustainable options to filter and absorb the water runoff back into the soil instead of it flushing into and overwhelming our storm system and therefore out to the ocean,” she said.