Crystal Springs repairs may get dumped

Plans to fix a central San Mateo County sewer line, responsible for nearly a million gallons of sewage spills in January, may go down the drain unless one of the responsible agencies can raise millions.

The Crystal Springs El Cerrito Sewer Trunk runs through Hillsborough, San Mateo, and unincorporated sections of the county and flows into the Bay. The line was responsible for 974,000 gallons of sewage spills in a half-mile radius between Jan. 4 and Feb. 3 alone, according to state statistics.

Touching or inhaling sewage-contaminated water can cause rash, ear infection, stomach issues and other health risks for humans, Save the Bay spokeswoman Jessica Castelli said. The sewage also kills fish and wildlife that do not move away from the contaminated waters, she said.

Hillsborough appears ready to contribute $8 million to fix the pipes, and San Mateo also has funds available for its smaller share, said Hillsborough Public Works Director Martha DeBry. The county, however, does not have the funds available to fund its share of the project, which is about 40 percent, or close to $8 million, officials said.

One reason why the county may not have enough funds is that in 2006, the 1,500 ratepayers of the Crystal Springs County Sanitation District successfully protested to avoid rate hikes in 2006, said county Public Works Director Jim Porter. Rates were raised in 2007 up to $900 annually per resident, but the county still does not have enough money to contribute, he said.

The sanitation district already borrowed $1 million from Hillsborough for fixes to the sewer line a few years ago, and still owes San Mateo back pay for using the San Mateo Sewage Treatment Plant, Porter said.

“We really don’t have much left in the bank,” Porter said.

The issue for Hillsborough and San Mateo is whether they are willing to fix its parts of the line while the county saves up cash, DeBry said.

County, San Mateo and Hillsborough officials will meet in the next few weeks to discuss options to fix the sewer line, and how much each agency will contribute to the project.

Officials acknowledged the line has contributed to excessive sewage spills, especially during the rainy season, and needs to be fixed.

Officials from Baykeeper, a nonprofit environmental watchdog, said in late January they were considering contacting the agencies responsible for Crystal Springs and that they may sue for a faster fix to the lines.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

Crystal Springs by the numbers

» Agencies: Hillsborough, San Mateo, unincorporated San Mateo County

» Start point: Just east of Interstate 280

» End point: San Francisco Bay

» 288,700: Gallons of sewage spilled on the 700 block of El Cerrito Avenue between Jan. 4 and Feb. 3

» 686,000: Gallons of sewage spilled on the 1000 block of Crystal Springs Road between Jan. 4 and Jan. 25

» $8 million: Hillsborough’s cost (half of project)

» 40 percent: County’s share of project

» 10 percent: San Mateo’s share of project

Sources: Hillsborough, San Mateo County, Regional Water Quality Control Board

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