Marin Sewage Spill Closes Bay Area Beaches

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 18, 2009 (ENS) – A southern Marin County sanitation district has spilled 500,000 gallons of partially treated sewage into San Francisco Bay, and the leak is not yet completely stopped. The Sausalito-Marin City Sanitary District reported that the sewage spill started around 1:00 pm Tuesday after a pipeline ruptured in the District’s Fort Baker Treatment Plant in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

Because the pipe is underwater, repairs could not begin until low tide this morning, said the district’s general manager Bob Simmons.

The sanitary district and its contractor have worked to fix the defective pipe since the spill was initially detected, but were hampered by high tides and difficulties with initial repairs.

This afternoon a temporary fix was put in place to contain most of the spill and at this time, the flow of partially treated wastewater has been slowed from 250 gallons per minute down to one gallon per minute, Marin County said in a statement late today.

Permanent repairs will begin on Thursday, Simmons said, adding that district staffers are working to ensure that all measures are being taken to correct the problem in the most expeditious and safe manner possible. Final repairs are estimated to be completed no later than Friday.

The district serves some 18,000 residents of southern Marin County.

The sewage spilling into the Bay has had some solids removed but has not been disinfected and still contains bacteria and pathogens. As a result, beaches in the area are closed and warning signs are posted.

The district and the county are advising people to stay out of the water for recreational activities and sport fishing for up to a mile on both sides of the treatment plant until further notice, and people are advised not to eat seafood from the impacted area.

Initial water quality testing is underway, with results expected by Friday

This plant has a history of capacity and compliance issues which have resulted in penalties from the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Last April, the U.S. EPA ordered nine Marin County cities and sanitation districts, including the Fort Baker Plant, to replace and upgrade aging infrastructure.

Spills of raw sewage and overflows of partially treated sewage pose a significant threat to the water quality of San Francisco Bay, says the nonprofit San Francisco Baykeeper, which serves as the pollution watchdog for the Bay.

Despite the substantial public and environmental health dangers posed by this sewage spill, this is only a medium-sized spill and these incidents occur regularly, often without adequate or timely public and agency notification, Baykeeper says.

Today’s spill is smaller than the discharge of three million gallons of sewage into Richardson Bay by the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin during last year’s rainy weather season.

Cities throughout the Bay Area have sanitary sewer systems which were built in the early part of the 20th century and are in poor condition, with failing pipes and inadequate treatment capacity.

The Fort Baker Treatment Plant was built in 1953 and, according to EPA’s 2007 inspection, was last upgraded in 1987. This plant, like many in the Bay Area, is in poor condition and has insufficient capacity to serve the population that depends on it.

Large amounts of rainwater seep into the sewer systems through the crumbling pipes, swelling the volume of waste flowing into treatment plants; this increased flow can overwhelm treatment plant capacity, causing hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated sewage to be discharged into local watersheds.

With its Sick of Sewage Initiative, Baykeeper has partnered with state and local legislators to reform sewage laws, called for a region-wide upgrade to failing sewage systems and used legal action to compel cities and sanitation agencies to reduce sewage spills that violate the Clean Water Act.

Lawsuits brought by the San Francisco Baykeeper have forced the Bay Area cities of Richmond, Vallejo and Burlingame to make major capital improvements to their sewage collection infrastructure and treatment plants.

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