Spill hits Contra Costa County shoreline

February 25, 2009 7:17:10 PM PST
This has been quite a terrible past week for keeping our bay waters clean and user-friendly. Last week about 500,000 gallons of sewage spilled into the bay from a leaky pipe at a Fort Baker treatment plant in Sausalito. Now signs posted at Point Isabel warn to stay away from a new spill - close to one million gallons are floating around the Contra Costa County shoreline.

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They were hoping to pull them on Wednesday, but East Bay Regional Parks just got their water test results back, and the bacteria levels are still too high for human contact.

Besides the health risks, this spill is just the latest example of exactly what's wrong with aging sewer systems around the bay.

The warning signs remained in place at Point Isabel Regional Shoreline for the third day, after 890,000 gallons of raw sewage mixed with rainwater spilled into the bay from a Richmond treatment plant.

It's a plant operated by the Veolia Water Company.

"It is a very old system. There's a lot of inflow and infiltration issues that are causing a lot of these problems," said Shilen Patel from Veolia Water.

The Richmond spill comes one week after a broken pipe at a Sausalito plant released 500,000 gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into the bay.

In Richmond, heavy rains poured so much extra water into the system, in part because of leaky, aging pipes.

Michele Pla is the Executive Director of the Bay Area Clean Water Agencies. She says leaks and holes are all too common in the Bay Area's 17,000 miles of sewer pipes, many 50 to 100 years old.

"In the case of this Richmond overflow, their average dry weather sewage they get in these pipes is about 16 million gallons a day. They had 40 million gallons on Sunday when they had this overflow," said Pla.

"Richmond has had a problem with capacity for a long time and they know this and they're working to improve their system's capacity," said Amy Chastain from San Francisco Baykeeper.

A key element of that is replacing old, leaky pipes.

Heidi Kearsley and her family visit Point Isabel often. Today, she's making sure her grandkids don't touch the water.

"It's just awful. I don't know why they can't control those kinds of things better. And publicize it with the truth," said Kearsley.

The Richmond plant may face fines from the state for taking longer than two hours to report this spill -- that's a required by state law.

As for the warning signs, East Bay Regional Parks will resample the water on Thursday morning, and if the bacteria levels go down, they could remove them by the weekend.

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