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By Miriam Raftery

File photo: sewage line

March 22, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) – The County is asking the public to help report suspected sewage spills by calling 619-660-2007.

A recent sewage spill at Los Coches Creek found during a recent inspection resulted in over 900,000 gallons of raw sewage flowing into the waterway, which remains closed pending results of water testing.  It was contained the day it was discovered and is believed to have been flowing for more than two weeks.  But it could have been far worse, since many sewer lines are cleaned and inspected only once a year.

We contacted Alex Bell, Land Use and Environmental Group program manager for the County of San Diego, with several questions after the Los Coches spill.  Here are our questions, and his responses:

Q: Have the water quality tests come back yet on that?

A: Preliminary E. coli tests are gathered daily with results returning in approximately 24 hours. While the bacteria levels are rapidly decreasing, the water contact closure remains in place out of an abundance of caution.

Q: Is it still closed to the public and if so, when might it reopen?  (please notify us when it opens, if it isn’t already)

A: The rains may have an impact on the timeline for lifting the contact closure. While it likely will help improve conditions directly related to the spill, rain also brings urban runoff which may increase bacteria levels in inland watersheds for a few days. Crews will not be able to obtain accurate samples during the rain but will reevaluate conditions in the creek after impacts from the rain have subsided.

Q: How often do you conduct routine inspections?

A: We clean each sewer line and visually inspect manholes at least once a year.  Lines that are subject to heavy grease, debris, or root buildup are maintained more frequently.

Q: Is there a state standard or guideline for frequency of inspections and if so, what is it?

A: No regulatory requirements for cleaning/inspections.  Annual frequency is considered aggressive per industry standards.

Q: Has the frequency of inspections been constant through the years or has it changed anytime recently?

A: Constant.

Q: Glad you cleaned it up same day it was found, but nearly a million gallons of sewage is still a lot flowing into a creek for around 2 weeks.  Is there anything else that can be done to prevent this and/or find spills faster?

A: The County of San Diego’s Sanitation District operates over 400 miles of buried sewer mains in the unincorporated area. As this is such a large area, the public’s assistance as our “eyes and ears” in the community is essential to stopping and containing sewer spills quickly.  The public can report suspected spills by calling 619-660-2007. Additionally, the Sanitation District is expanding the existing network of in-line flow monitors which can assist in notifying operators of potential problems within the sewer, but due to the vast extent of the sewer system the monitors can only provide limited coverage of system conditions.