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La Mesa Facing $1 Million Fine for Sewage Overflows in 2010 Rainstorm

State says 1.3 million gallons of raw sewage was dumped into San Diego Bay and the ocean.

Remember the December Deluge of 2010—when Parkway Middle School classes were flooded and the VFW hall on University Avenue had to abandon ship?

The final wave has hit.

The city of La Mesa is facing nearly $1 million in fines for dumping 1.3 million gallons of raw sewage into San Diego Bay and the ocean during the rains of 2010.

As first reported Tuesday by the San Diego Reader, the city on Jan. 11 submitted a settlement offer to the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board for an undisclosed amount.

In a Dec. 11 letter to City Manager Dave Witt, the water board’s James Smith wrote:

The complaint proposes that administrative civil liability in the amount of $948,816 be imposed as authorized by CWC section 13385. Unless the Discharger waives its right to a hearing and pays the proposed liability, a hearing will be held before the San Diego Water Board during its meeting of March 13, 2013, in San Diego.

According to the reader and documents posted on the water board site, City Hall admitted to illegally discharging 1,008,000 gallons of raw sewage in San Diego Bay via Chollas Creek “and an additional 306,700 gallons of muck in the ocean via the San Diego River and Alvarado Creek.”

Documents said the discharge occurred in December 2010 after a heavy storm overwhelmed the city’s sewage system.

“According to a technical analysis, the city of La Mesa failed to upgrade the sewage system after … 1998 floods. Then came the rains on December 21 and 22, 2010. The heavy inflow of water forced four locations to back up and send water into Chollas Creek and the San Diego River. Those four overflows occurred at Severin Drive, Parkway Drive, University Avenue and the final one on Normal Avenue.”

In a technical analysis by Rebecca Stewart, an engineer for the water board’s Compliance Assurance Unit, the city was accused of failing to follow its Emergency Overflow Response Plan “and did not collect any water quality samples during or after the SSOs [sanitary sewer overflows].

“The failure to collect water quality samples during and after the SSOs directly affects the city’s ability to determine the impacts to receiving waters from its SSOs,” Stewart wrote in a 28-page report [attached as a PDF].

Stewart added:

The city did not adequately respond to a request contained in Investigative Order R92011-0040 to provide concentrations of pollutants in its raw sewage to adequately calculate the pollutant loading in receiving waters as required pursuant to Water Code section 13267.

She said the nearly $1 million fine was appropriate because:

  • The city has a history of rain-related sewage overflows, including areas addressed in the complaint.
  • Although the overflows occurred during a 40-year storm event, they began well below the rainfall totals of the entire storm event.
  • The city was aware it had an inflow and infiltration problem in 1998 and has failed to adequately address it throughout its sewage collection system.
  • All of the overflows discharged to impaired water bodies.
  • The high degree of toxicity in untreated sewage, even if diluted by rain water, has the potential to impact beneficial uses.

She concluded: “The proposed civil liability assessment is sufficient to recover costs incurred by staff of the San Diego and State Water Boards, and serves as deterrent for future violations.”

Craig Maxwell January 24, 2013 at 04:31 PM
I'm surprised the source wasn't closer to city hall.
Batman January 24, 2013 at 05:25 PM
This is nothing another multi-million dollar bond can't fix. "Proposition S" will only add another $400 per year to your property tax and we will never have another sewer overflow again.
Kevin George January 24, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Batman, do I detect a note of sarcastic pessimism? You sound as if you may have experience with a " No fiscal impact" bond issue that is sure to cure all our ills.
Batman January 24, 2013 at 06:10 PM
Aw come on Kev, me Batman, sarcastic? City Hall knows flushing money down the toilet keeps the sewer system clean.
Jimmy Sanders January 25, 2013 at 03:05 PM
Greenbacks are like lettuce and equal roughage! Keeps the ol' pipes clean.

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