A 72,000-gallon sewage spill at the California Men’s Colony was caused by inmates throwing trash into toilets, a spokesman for the prison said Tuesday.
But the spill has since been cleaned by CMC staff and minimum-security inmates, he said.
“It was all taken care of on Friday,” said Henry Cervantez, litigation coordinator for CMC, who is filling in as the prison’s public information officer this week.
Prison officials announced Friday evening that a backup in a sewer line located on property belonging to the Camp San Luis Obispo state National Guard base had caused a leakage. That backup, Cervantez said, was caused by trash placed in toilets.
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“It eventually just ruptured,” he said.
Trash found among the spill reportedly included ketchup and mustard packets, a set of dentures, trash bags and pieces of bed sheets.
“They’ll throw anything in there,” Cervantez said.
The rupture caused inmates and staff to be without water intermittently for several hours, he said. Inmates have since been reminded what sorts of things they can and cannot put in the toilets, Cervantez added.
Much of the 72,000 gallons was diverted down another sewer section, said Laurie Salo, a supervisor with San Luis Obispo County’s environmental health services department. According to the prison’s business services department, Cervantez said, about 10,000 gallons spilled into nearby Chorro Creek, which flows into the Morro Bay Estuary. Salo’s department estimated it at 6,000 gallons.
While rain can create problems with sewage runoff, Salo said, in this case it helped dilute the sewage spill. The biggest threat caused by the spill, she said, would be direct exposure to bacteria. But much of the creek winds through areas that are difficult to get to, including portions of Camp San Luis Obispo that are restricted to the general public.
“Most likely the contact was limited,” she said.
The city of Morro Bay and a nearby oyster farm, she said, were notified of the spill.
Thea Tryon, enforcement coordinator for the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, said her agency will evaluate the incident to determine what enforcement or penalties might result from the spill.
“We’re still in the investigation stage,” she said.
In 2005, Matt Thompson, a water research control engineer for the board, told The Tribune that CMC had a chronic problem with sewage spills.
Even after a $30 million sewage treatment plant project was completed, the prison had to pay $40,000 fines in 2008 because of numerous violations dating back to 2007. Because the treatment plant discharges to Chorro Creek, which flows into Morro Bay, the sewage must meet very high treatment standards.
Prisoners flushing trash and other objects down toilets has also been a problem in the past.
“The prisoners use blankets as weapons against the institution,” Thompson said in 2005. “If they can cause a sewage spill, they feel they have won something.”
Although CMC housed about 7,000 inmates in 1999, today there are between 3,500 and 4,200, Cervantez said.