The City of San Luis Obispo was ordered on Tuesday to pay $57,130 in fines for sewage spills that occured between 2008 and 2009. The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board determined that the spill in Shell Beach is unrelated. -Haley Petersen/ Mustang Daily

Close to 6,000 gallons of sewage spilled near 96 Indio St. in Shell Beach on Friday, according to a release issued by the San Luis Obispo County Health Department.

Director of public works for the City of Pismo Beach Dwayne Chisam said the leak occurred when the system’s backup piping failed.

“We needed to put the bypass in, in order to perform some work on the primary system, which we completed on Friday afternoon late. So we made the decision to maintain the backup system as a secondary pumping system, so that if the primary system went down, we wouldn’t have an overflow,” Chisam said. “There’s a rubber joint in the bypass piping that failed, and that was the cause of the leak.”

The sewage contained toxic compounds which could be detrimental to citizens’ health if they were to come in direct contact with an affected area. Chisam said the material contained bacteria that would likely cause gastrointestinal sickness to anyone who accidentally ingested it.

Chisam said the chances of being affected by the spill were small for most Shell Beach residents.

“This area’s fairly remote,” he said. “There really is no public out on this area, so very few actually go out in this general location where the spill occurred. If someone was just a casual walker and walked through this, it wouldn’t likely cause any illness at all. It would only be a situation where someone was in direct contact and ingested the sea water.”

The health department posted advisory notices at the beach access points as a precautionary measure. Still, some residents don’t think that these signs provided sufficient warning.

Shell Beach resident Brittany Thornburg said she did not hear about the spill until Tuesday morning.

“I had not heard anything about it until (Tuesday), and that was just from the radio DJ,” Thornburg said. “He said it was now safe to go back into the water. I never knew it was unsafe.”

The health department tested the water on Sunday afternoon. Chisam said he has not yet received the results, but the health department was “satisfied with the conditions of the water.”

Other local cities have had similar pipe problems.

The City of San Luis Obispo reported Tuesday that it will pay $57,130 in fines because of four sewage spills which occurred in 2008 and 2009, resulting in approximately 43,000 cumulative gallons of sewage leaking into local bodies of water.

The City of San Luis Obispo is not responsible for the Shell Beach spill, as each system is managed within their city authorities. Both municipalities, however, are overseen by the Central Coast Regional Water Board.

Enforcement coordinator for the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board Harvey Packard said the violations in the San Luis Obispo spills are unrelated to the failure at Shell Beach.

“It’s two different agencies,” Packard said. “Spills happen from time to time, and the City of San Luis Obispo’s sewers are coming up on 100 years old. They require maintenance. I don’t think there’s any connection.”

As the enforcement coordinator, Packard is responsible for reviewing the violations and determining which violations are significant enough to take action against. He said he cannot say for sure whether the Shell Beach incident will be significant enough to warrant a penalty, as was the case in San Luis Obispo, but he said it will warrant a notice of violation to the city.

“(The advisory) would be a warning, sure,” Packard said. “But it would also require the city to detail exactly what happened, what they will do to fix it … just making sure that they are thinking about how this affected their system, so they can head up future spills.”

The level of the violation will be decided in upcoming months.

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