The city of San Luis Obispo will pay a $57,130 fine stemming from four separate sewage spills in the past three years, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board announced Tuesday.
Collectively, the spills dumped 43,000 gallons of sewage, of which 30,600 gallons entered local creeks.
The city has agreed to pay the penalty to settle allegations that it violated water quality laws by spilling sewage into local creeks, according to a news release from the agency.
The city will pay $34,565 of the fine to the water quality board and $22,565 toward watershed improvements on city-owned undeveloped land at Froom Ranch.
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The money given to the board goes into a statewide fund used by water boards and local agencies to clean up emergency situations and spill sites where the board can’t determine who is responsible, said Harvey Packard, enforcement coordinator for the Central Coast water board.
The maximum fine the board could have levied against the city for the spills was $315,000.
The penalty will be paid from the city’s capital improvement account of its sewer fund — money collected from ratepayers.
The city does not have a contingency fund for possible fines, said Carrie Mattingly, utilities director.
“We don’t plan on these things happening,” Mattingly said. “In this case, some very unfortunate things happened all right after one another.”
The fine is in response to four spills: In September 2008, 3,000 gallons reached San Luis Obispo Creek; in February 2009, 30,000 gallons reached Orcutt Creek; in March 2009, 9,000 gallons were spilled into Old Garden Creek; and in January 2010, 1,000 gallons were spilled into Stenner Creek.
The largest of the spills happened when a corroded pipe at Orcutt Road and Lawnwood Drive caused 30,000 gallons of sewage to spill in February 2009.
The sewage went into Orcutt Creek, which eventually flowed into San Luis Obispo Creek. That pipe has since been replaced.
The water board and the city negotiated a settlement to resolve the violations, according to a news release.
The city has been responsible for 51 sewage spills totaling 107,000 gallons in the past five years, according to the regional water board.
The sewage spills ranged in volume from five to 40,000 gallons, and 30 of those spills entered surface waters. The majority of those spills were caused by root intrusion, but blockages from grease and debris and broken sewer lines were also at fault, according to the water board.
Shell Beach spill
Elsewhere in the county, signs warning people of a sewage spill in a Shell Beach neighborhood were removed Sunday evening, two days after an estimated 6,000 gallons of sewage were released into a storm drain that leads directly to the ocean.
The spill was reported to Pismo Beach city staff about 8:20 p.m. Friday after someone smelled sewage in the area of 96 Indio Drive, according to a news release from the county health agency.
The spill happened when a rubber joint on a bypass pipe failed, city Public Works Director Dwayne Chisam said.
The city had been using bypass piping in the area since Tuesday while crews made some repairs to a lift station, but the work was completed by Friday afternoon, and the bypass piping system had been turned off.
“The piping system had been operating most of the week, and we had no issues with it,” Chisam said. “So we had no indication that there was a problem.”
The maintenance project on the lift station, a pumping station that raises sewage from a lower pipeline to a higher one, will likely cost about $15,000, he said.
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939 and Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo and @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.