San Quentin sewage contaminates North Bay waters

A failed sewer pump at San Quentin State Prison released 1,500 gallons of waste into the North Bay, the third such spill in the Bay within the past month.

Six areas, including a popular dog-walking beach and windsurfing spot along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, had warnings posted, apprising visitors to the potential hazard, said Brian Crawford, the assistant director of the Marin County Community Development Agency. A patrol boat also cruised the area to warn kayakers, he said.

San Francisco beaches and waterfront areas were not expected to be impacted by the raw sewage, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesman Tony Winnicker said.

At 9:50 a.m. Thursday, water was noticed running from manholes in the lower parking lot at the picturesque prison, according to a San Quentin official, Lt. Sam Robinson.

At 10:10 a.m. the prison’s maintenance crew and a fire department hazmat team responded. By 10:45 they had the spill contained, but not before an estimated 1,500 gallons of raw human waste flowed into a storm drain and out into the Bay, Robinson said.

“What happened was a [temporary] sewage pump that we have stopped working,” Robinson said, and that pump was now backed up by two additional pumps. The parking lot was expected to be completely cleaned up by 4 p.m., he said.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board is investigating this incident at San Quentin, according to Marin County officials. Raw sewage can contain pathogens and bacteria that can cause diseases, infections, skin rashes, vomiting and diarrhea for humans, and for aquatic life it can deplete oxygen levels in water, impacting the food chain, said Sejal Choksi of water-quality watchdog group Baykeeper.

Choksi said there were at least 12 sewage spills in the Bay last year and this latest event was one of many. “It’s not surprising; it’s not at all surprising,” she said.

At the end of January, in two separate events, approximately one week apart, more than 5 million gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into Richardson Bay near Tiburon, according to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board. Officials are investigating the cause of those spills as well as a recent increase in dead birds washing ashore in that area.

dsmith@examiner.com

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