88,000 gallons of raw sewage spills in San Anselmo

November 1, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
There's a nasty problem in the North Bay where a sewer system appears to be failing. About 88,000 of raw sewage overflowed in San Anselmo and sanitation engineers say that could be just the beginning.

Engineers at the Ross Valley Sanitary District say the system is falling apart faster than they can fix it. They say they were pulling rags and diapers out of this most recently clogged line and they believe there are many more that go undetected.

"It was just brown effluent, stinky effluent," said San Anselmo resident Nick Pogonchiff.

Pogonchiff says it was flowing down the hill behind his house for four days before it was reported. The Ross Valley Sanitary District estimates about 88,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled out of a clogged pipe.

"This particular very small tributary drainage drains into San Anselmo Creek," said Pogonchiff.

Sanitary engineers say the entire system is made of 50-year-old clay pipe that's crumbling and leaking sewage into the ground water. The red areas on a map show the known sewage breaks throughout San Anselmo, Corte Madera, San Rafael, Fairfax and Larkspur.

"We know the severity of the problem and we want to get it corrected," said Ross Valley Sanitary District Board President Frank Egger.

Many breaks go undetected creating sink holes under streets until the pavement collapses and the sewage bubbles out. Tree roots are invading and grease is clogging up a system that's averaging 30 structural defects per mile of pipe. It'll cost about $300 million to rebuild the system, but over the summer the Ross Valley Sanitary District Board voted down a rate increase and a $70 million bond proposal.

"I voted against selling the bonds," said Egger. When asked why, he said, "I wanted to put it on the ballot and let the rate payers weigh in on it."

The maximum state fine for this recent spill alone could reach $800,000. Engineers say it's hard to measure the environmental damage because a lot of the leaks are underground. It's a costly situation any way you put it.

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