SD Sewage Pumps Need New Generators

Stations due for backup generators: $17 million price tag

By Gene Cubbison
|  Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012  |  Updated 9:14 PM PDT
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The City of San Diego will have to spend millions on new generators to prevent raw sewage from spilling into the ocean. University City resident Pieter Leeflang, Canadian resident Lisa Davidson and Craig Thompson, a Rancho Penasquitos resident, discuss the implications of the situation. Gene Cubbison reports.

The City of San Diego will have to spend millions on new generators to prevent raw sewage from spilling into the ocean. University City resident Pieter Leeflang, Canadian resident Lisa Davidson and Craig Thompson, a Rancho Penasquitos resident, discuss the implications of the situation. Gene Cubbison reports.

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When the power went out all over our region last year, millions of gallons of raw sewage poured into the Pacific and San Diego Bay.

Now the city is having to spend big bucks to prevent a  re-run, if there's another blackout.

The sewage facility that broke down when electrical service failed -- Pump Station 64, located west of southbound Interstate 5 on the edge of Los Penasquitos Lagoon -- doesn't have an emergency backup generator.

City officials decided not to install one a decade ago.

The events of last Sep. 8 have since changed their minds

For several hours after the regional power outage, a 2.6 million-gallon tide of waste flooded through the lagoon and into the ocean at Torrey Pines State Beach, spreading for five miles in each direction.

The place has to be quarantined for several days.

To this day, beachgoers are still appalled.

"Well, it kind of grosses me out now, when I think about it," said Canadian tourist Lisa Davidson, interviewed Wednesday after a family walk on Torrey Pines State Beach.  "Yeah, it wouldn't have been beneficial if they
could've had something to take care of that before it happened."

But an emergency generator didn't seem indispensable when Pump Station 64 was upgraded more than ten years ago.

Now, at the urging of state and federal agencies including Homeland Security, the city is moving to buy two 2,000-kilowatt portable diesel generators for Station 64, two for Pump Station 1 -- from where nearly
a million gallons of sewage went into San Diego Bay -- and three more for other sewage facilities without emergency backup power.

Total cost of equipment, land and installation: nearly $17 million.

"That's a big hit," said University City resident Pieter Leeflang as he surveyed the Wednesday afternoon surf at Torrey Pines.  "They should've thought of that when they actually built the place.  A little prevention."

So the bill for a pound of cure is coming due, and Officials can only hope that city water and sewer ratepayers are in a forgiving mood.

"We can't go back in time," said Rancho Penasquitos resident Craig Thompson, sounding almost forgiving -- if not willing to forget.  "So all we can do is say, okay, who made the decision, do we want to get them in or out,
and what are we going to do going forward.  I think that's the right way to look at it."

And the $17 million price tag?

"Yeah," Thompson replied. "But it won't get cheaper."

According to a city staff report to the City Council's Natural Resources & Culture Committee, the generators are expected to arrive on-site by late-May.

The financing will come out of a city utilities reserve account. But the city may face millions of dollars in fines for water-quality violations.

As for the cause of the regional power blackout, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to present findings sometime between April and the end of June.
 

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