When the lights go down in the city and the sewage flows into the lagoon..

DSC01269-2Did you see the tons of stories on the sewage spill that released 1.9 million gallons of sewage into the Los Penasquitos Lagoon? One thing all of these stores have in common is mentioning the beach closures that resulted. None of them mention the effects of the spill on the inland water systems.

Our volunteer water monitoring team went out on Saturday for our monthly routine water quality sampling. What they found at one of our sites is truly sickening. The samplers describe first being hit with the smell of sewage and then noticing the normally clear water was a strange shade of grey. Dead fish were floating on the surface and washed up on the bank.

The sewage spill killed these fish and polluted the stream. Dissolved oxygen levels were about as close to zero as you can get, causing the fish to suffocate. Levels of fecal indicator bacteria and nutrients that are associated with sewage were so high they were above my ability to measure them. An example is E. coli. The San Diego Basin Plan sets a threshold of 406 MPN/100 ml. That means a healthy stream  will have no more than 406 E. coli bacteria in a 100 milliliter cup of water. My test tops out at 241,920 MPN/100ml. I don’t know exactly how much E. coli was in that stream, but it was above that. Ammonia and Phosphorus showed the same pattern. The values exceeded my capacity to test them. Check out this photo of my ammonia test kits:

Compare this with the results I got several months ago from the Tijuana River.

As far as I know, San Diego Coastkeeper’s volunteer water monitors were the first ones to notice the effects of the sewage spill. We collected evidence and made reports to the Water Quality Control Board and to the Department of Fish and Game.

Volunteers discovered the effects of the spill, volunteers collected samples and volunteers analyzed the samples in the laboratory. It is a community effort that found and documented the spill. This speaks to the strengths of our volunteer program and our role as the watchdog for the people of San Diego. In a time of shrinking government budgets and limited resources, we are the additional eyes and ears for the environment. Our mission is to “protect the region’s inland and coastal waters for the communities and wildlife that depend on them by blending education, community empowerment and advocacy.”

This is a perfect example empowering the community to protect our waterways.

I am proud of our volunteers!

Published in Sick of Sewage

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5 Responses for When the lights go down in the city and the sewage flows into the lagoon..

  1. Giles Blair says:

    I have seen the stories about the sewage pump station without a backup generator. But no-one is asking why there was no attempt to get out there with a truck-mounted generator or pumps! Apparently the SD wastewater district’s backup plan is just wait for SDGE to come back on?! Someone should ask them about this

  2. TravisPritchard says:

    People are asking why there was no backup. The Water Quality Control Board, along with the Department of Fish and Game, the State Parks, the Los Penasquitos Lagoon Foundation and us has opened an investigation into the spill. We will be reviewing the city’s emergency plans with the goal of asking how and why this spill was allowed to happen. We are also coordinating with them to get our hands on the city’s risk assessment study they did when deciding whether or not to install backup generators at these locations.

    We have identified the spill and that is the first step. Establishing how it happened and how to prevent a similar scenario in the future are the next steps. Sewage spills like this are unacceptable and we are working hard to ensure those backup systems are in place in the future.

  3. Hey, why didn’t they just shut the pipes??? You mean every time the power shuts of they dump Millions of gallons of pollutants into the water shed?? I believe lots of people were asleep at the wheel(valve & circuit breaker)!

  4. Giles Blair says:

    Not sure what you mean by “shut the pipes”. There really is no way to do that, but if there was then the raw sewage would bubble up through all the drains inside the houses and buildings, then run out through the doors and windows and down the street and end up in the lagoon anyway. You’re not thinking this through, Daniel. The only way to stop the flow of sewage is to shut off the fresh water supply to the neighborhoods. Not going to happen

  5. TravisPritchard says:


    Giles is correct, if they closed a valve and shut down the pipes, the water would start backing up into people’s houses. They need to have back up power to ensure they pump station continues to operate during an outage.

    Thanks for reading. I have been doing some follow up testing in the lagoon, and will be posting that data shortly.