50,000 Gallons of Sewage Floods Oakland Estuary After Power Outage

A sign warns people not to go in the water after 50,000 gallons of sewage spills into the Oakland Estuary.  (Lakshmi Sarah/KQED)

People are being advised to stay out of the Oakland Estuary after it flooded with sewage early Saturday morning.

A power outage caused a major failure at East Bay Municipal Utility District's main wastewater treatment plant last night sending 50,000 gallons of raw sewage, about the size of a small, single-story home into the Oakland Estuary near Jack London Square on Saturday morning.

The power outage impacting the wastewater treatment plant was not related to ongoing, rotating outages, according to PG&E. This secondary outage affected 4,150 PG&E customers in Oakland and began at about 5:20 p.m. Power was restored by 6:40 p.m.

The outage's cause is under investigation, according to the utility.

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“This power outage caused [a] failure of major equipment at the wastewater plant, including the ability for EBMUD to generate its own power on-site," EBMUD spokewoman Andrea Pook said in an email. "The power outage resulted in major flooding of the pump station that transports sewage from East Bay communities via pipes to the plant for treatment."

The outage led to major flooding of a pump station that takes sewage from homes and businesses in the East Bay to pipes at the plant to be treated. The sludge at the pump station overflowed, sending raw sewage into the estuary.

Pook said crews worked overnight to fix the problem. While the plant does have backup bower, "it's not just the flip of a switch to turn it on."

"Unfortunately, we learned of the outage when the lights went out at the plant," Pook added, "we do have the ability to utilize our own power if needed in emergencies, but it takes a little time to change the electrical configuration at the plant to be independent of PG&E power."

Sejal Choksi-Chugh, executive director of the environmental advocacy group San Francisco Baykeeper, said "wildlife are already exposed to way too much industrial waste and urban pollution" in the Oakland estuary and that raw sewage contains bacteria, viruses and other harmful pathogens.

"The causes of the spill need to be investigated, and the responsible agencies should be held accountable for this mess," Choksi-Chugh added. "But the immediately critical task is to get the word out to everyone who lives, works and recreates around the Oakland Estuary to stay out of the water for a few days. People are going to be drawn to the water on hot days like this, and it's important to warn them to stay away from the polluted areas right now to be safe."

But when KQED talked to more than a dozen people enjoying the sun at Jack London Square on Saturday, none had heard of the sewage spillage. People were canoeing and jet skiing on the water. Many complained of a strong smell.

"It's the first time I'm hearing about it," said Ian Custodio, who lives in the East Bay. Ellen Xie, who came out to Jack London Square to watch the boats go by, said "no, I haven't heard" of the spillage.

In an effort to minimize water quality impacts, EBMUD is discharging partially treated wastewater from its San Antonio Creek facility.

Rowing clubs and other businesses in Jack London Square have been notified, according to EBMUD. People are advised to stay out of the water.