State Authority Says Pacifica Owes $2.3 Million For Pooping Up Beaches

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The city of Pacifica may be up shit creek if it doesn't stop shitting up its creeks. The city faces $2.3 million fines for what the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board is calling "illegal discharges" during storms in January of 2008. A letter from the Board to the city and wastewater plant manager, David Gromm, dated from last Friday addresses "numerous sanitary sewer overflows and bypass violations" starting as early as February 2006.

According to the Board's formal complaint, treated wastewater flows from the implicated plant in Pacifica through the Calera Creek Wetlands and into the ocean at Rockaway Beach (activities at Rockaway now include hiking, biking, and dodging excrement). The complaint alleges that last January the plant dumped 100,000 gallons of raw sewage after a system overflow, among other so-called "discharge events."

The city closed two affected beaches during the January spills, but the complaint alleges that sewage was also popping out of manholes in multiple locations in the area. The same week, the plant released 6.9 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the wetlands when a glitch caused the filth to bypass important filtration processes. So far, this plant has already agreed to fork over $586,000 from previous liability complaints from the Board (one in 2005 and another in 2007) for similar problems.   

The Board claims that these events were avoidable if the plant had prepared for the peak capacity of storm season by repairing the facility. Evidently, issues with the plant date all the way back to 1993 when the city manager at the time reported on operational problems. The complaint says that there is no evidence the collection system at the plant has been evaluated for carrying capacity since 1982.

Gromm, the aforementioned manager for the implicated wastewater treatment plant, has not yet returned SF Weekly's calls. 

A hearing about the issue is scheduled for January 13, 2010, at the auditorium at 1515 Clay Street in Oakland.

UPDATE: Gromm responded to SF Weekly in a recent phone interview and admitted that there was no doubt the plant has had violations, but said that the fine was excessive as the plant had addressed as many issues as they could afford with the city's funds from the state. One of the largest contributors to the problem, he said, is the old piping that homeowners are responsible for replacing. He also mentioned that other cities all around the Bay Area are dealing with similar consequences of old sewer systems -- for example, a sewer line on Treasure Island sent 27,000 gallons of sewage spewing into the bay after a rupture over this past weekend. He said that although the Board may be slow to get to it, whatever entity is responsible will likely face fines for that rupture in the future.
     
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