CA: Pendleton sewage spill is 2.7 million gallons | Weeklong contamination is county's 2nd-worst this year : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

CA: Pendleton sewage spill is 2.7 million gallons | Weeklong contamination is county's 2nd-worst this year

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune Publication date: 2000-09-15

Arrival time: 2000-09-17

CAMP PENDLETON -- The Marine Corps disclosed yesterday that a weeklong sewage spill sent an estimated 2.7 million gallons of contaminated water into the Santa Margarita River estuary near the Pacific Ocean.

The overflow -- the second largest this year in San Diego County - - killed an undetermined number of fish in the river and could cause further harm to the river's wildlife if water oxygen levels become depleted, state officials said.

The sewage did not reach the ocean.

"It's killed a lot of fish," said John Robertus, executive director of the state Regional Water Quality Control Board. "It's a very unfortunate situation."

In 1989, the state ordered military officials to improve the base's sewage treatment level, which does not meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.

"They have a very poor track record for sewage spills," said Robertus.

The spill is believed to have started Sept. 6, when operators of a base sewage treatment plant noticed a significant decline in incoming sewage, said Maj. Ralph Kinder, a Marine spokesman.

It took maintenance crews a week to track down the source of the problem: a blockage in a 12-inch-diameter sewer pipeline along Stuart Mesa Road, Kinder said.

He couldn't explain why it took a week to find the blockage, but noted that the overflow occurred in a remote area near the river that is overgrown with vegetation.

The spill is the worst in the county since a February overflow contaminated the San Diego River with an estimated 34 million gallons of untreated sewage.

Victor Vasquez, a sewage spill investigator with the regional board, said of the Pendleton spill, "It's a little early to say whether there was any negligence at this point, since it's only been a day since we've been investigating this."

However, because the base is a federal reservation and exempt from state authority, officials there cannot be fined for illegal sewage spills, Robertus said.

The pipeline, which had become clogged with "sand and other debris," was cleared by 6 p.m.

Wednesday, Kinder said. He didn't know how the material got into the sewer line.

Repair crews had to cut off water service for eight hours to an estimated 1,500 Marine families in the southwestern portion of the base, he said.

The disruption of water service during the current heat wave "wasn't very popular," he said. "That was a drastic measure, but that's what we had to do to prevent more (sewage) from getting into the estuary." None of the sewage reached the ocean because the river mouth is blocked by a sand and gravel berm. Still, contamination warnings were posted yesterday along the berm.

The river mouth is not used for military training and has few visitors because it is environmentally sensitive, base officials said.

The lagoon or estuary behind the berm supports a brackish-water ecosystem that is home to an endangered fish called the tidewater goby, as well as endangered birds such as the Belding's savannah sparrow and the California least tern.

Base crews yesterday used vacuum tankers to suck up sewage from the river near the Stuart Mesa Bridge. The intake pipes are taking water near the surface to avoid sucking up the endangered fish, base officials said.

To prevent the sewage from depleting the oxygen from the estuary's water, crews put aerator pumps along the banks of the river.

Camp Pendleton's sewage-treatment system has been in trouble with state regulators for more than a decade.

Countywide, there have been 416 sewage spills so far this year, 34 of which have resulted in beach closures.

Publication date: 2000-09-15

) 2000, YellowBrix, Inc.

-- Carl Jenkins (, September 18, 2000

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