San Diego Sewage Spills And Urban Runoff


The recent rains have been hiding the sun lately but are doing a great job filling up our local reservoirs. Fresh water supply will continue to be a vital issue in California so please continue to conserve water and don’t take it for granted.

The rain does have two bad sides though: sewage spills increase and urban runoff flows to the ocean and bays. Heavy rains can overflow stormwater infrastructure in some areas which overwhelms the wastewater system causing it to flood raw or partially treated sewage water. Sometimes debris from heavy rain can damage pipes or connections causing a sewage spill. Anytime of the year grease and tree roots can clog pipes or old pipes/infrastructure can break sending sewage into local creeks and rivers.

Here are news stories about a few of the recent sewage spills in San Diego County:
Santee/San Diego River on 12/23 (1.2 million gallons / flooded pump station)
San Onofre State Beach (Trestles) / San Mateo Creek on 12/24 (1.08 million gallons / sewage main damaged by heavy rain)
Oceanside / Buena Vista Creek and lagoon. Date unknown, approx. 12/26 (180,000 gallons / broken pipe)
Del Mar / San Dieguito River on 12/27 (three thousand gallons / grease and roots)

It seems fairly common to hear about sewage spills after a big rain but most are preventable. In 2001, lawyers representing the Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper sued the City of San Diego for violating the federal Clean Water Act. The lawsuit focused on the City’s history of chronic sewage spills, which at the time of filing averaged almost a spill a day. In 2007, the San Diego City Council approved a final settlement which mandates that by 2013 the City will replace at least 450 miles of aged sewer pipes, upgrade and/or replace more than 20 pump stations, and continue implementation of an aggressive inspection and maintenance program. Since 2000, the City of San Diego’s early implementation of the Consent Decree terms has resulted in an approximately 80% reduction in sewage spills, including those during one of the rainiest years ever experienced in the region (2005). While Surfrider is extremely pleased with the outcome of this lawsuit and the significant reduction in sewage spills to date, continued monitoring is needed and we look to work with other cities to reduce sewage spills.

RIGHT NOW (Mon Jan 3rd): GENERAL ADVISORY ISSUED. The Department of Environmental Health has extended the GENERAL ADVISORY for the coastal waters of San Diego County due to contamination by urban runoff following rain. Swimmers, surfers, and other ocean users are warned that levels of bacteria can rise significantly in ocean waters, especially near storm drains, creeks, rivers, and lagoon outlets that discharge urban runoff. Activities such as swimming, surfing and diving should be avoided for 72 hours following rain. The GENERAL ADVISORY for urban runoff contamination applies to beaches from San Onofre State Beach south to Border Field and including Mission Bay and San Diego Bay. While many coastal outlets are posted with permanent metal warning signs, additional temporary signs are not posted for General Advisories.

CLOSURES: San Onofre State Beach. San Mateo Outlet (Trestles) 600′ North and South. Status Since: Dec 24. Reason: 1.08 Million Gallon Sewage (treated effluent) spill that occurred at Camp Pendleton and Entered San Mateo Creek.

Oceanside, Buena Vista Lagoon Outlet 1000′ North and South. Status Since: Dec 28. Reason: 180,000. Gallon Sewage spill flowed into Buena Vista Creek that leads into Buena Vista Lagoon and ultimately the Pacific Ocean.

South County. The ocean shoreline from U.S. / Mexico border to Silver Strand including: Border Field State Park, the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Imperial Beach and Silver Strand Shoreline. Status Since: Dec 18. Reason: Sewage-contaminated runoff from the Tijuana River.

Head to for more info.