Return to Articles

20,000 gallons of sewage flow from CMC out to Morro Bay

Water samples so far do not indicate danger, but warnings will be posted until results are confirmed today

by David Sneed

San Luis Obispo County Tribune

About 20,000 gallons of sewage spilled from the California Men’s Colony facility into Chorro Creek and out to Morro Bay. TRIBUNE PHOTO BY DAVID MIDDLECAMP

A sewage spill into Chorro Creek has health officials urging the public to avoid the ocean at Morro Bay at least through today and to not eat shellfish from the bay for at least two to three weeks.

About 20,000 gallons of sewage spilled from the California Men’s Colony prison at 4:10 p.m. Sunday when power was lost and an emergency generator did not start. The sewage flowed into Chorro Creek, which flows into Morro Bay.

“The power failed and then our backup generator failed, so it was kind of like a double power failure,” said Mike Minty, chief engineer at the prison’s wastewater treatment plant. “It’s all fixed now.”

Water samples taken Sunday from three locations all came back within state health limits, but the advisories at Morro Rock and the boat launch ramp at the south end of the Embarcadero in Morro Bay will remain posted for at least another day.

“We want to be very cautious because it was such a large spill,” said Richard Lichtenfels, the county’s supervising environmental health specialist.

The county has imposed a quarantine on the sport harvesting of shellfish from Morro Bay that is expected to last two to three weeks, Lichtenfels said.

The shellfish quarantine extends from Morro Rock to the southern end of the bay. It applies to mussels, clams and scallops.

New water samples were taken Monday. The water contact advisories will be lifted if those samples come back today within safe bacterial limits.

California Men’s Colony had a history of sewage spills before the facility’s sewage treatment plant was upgraded last year and the main collection line replaced.

Before the upgrade, the prison’s aged sewage system logged about 150 violations, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The prison’s sewer plant also serves Cuesta College, the Sheriff’s Department headquarters and County Jail, and the county Office of Education, all along Highway 1.