A portion of Doheny State Beach has reopened after sewage spilled into the ocean through San Juan Creek earlier this month, though bacterial levels continue to exceed health standards, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The closure was reduced to a “water warning” on March 25. The Orange County Health Care Agency warns that coming in contact with the ocean water 500 feet upcoast and 500 feet downcoast of the San Juan Creek outfall at Doheny State Beach may cause illness.
According to the office of Orange County Fifth District Board Supervisor Katrina Foley, the station at San Juan Creek is sampled at least weekly by the South Orange County Wastewater Authority. However, Foley’s office noted that this week’s sample will be dependent on the weather.
On March 15, approximately 4,000 gallons of sewage was spilled, closing access to the ocean-water area 1,500 feet upcoast and 1,500 feet downcoast of the outfall.
On the day of the sewage spill, the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) received an alarm on one of the manholes in San Juan Capistrano alerting the water district to high water levels.
“Crews proactively responded to see what was going on, and they decided to bring a big truck that manually sucks out the sewage and allows us to take it to a new location to prevent any sort of backup, or in the worst-case scenario, a spill,” SMWD Public Information Manager Nicole Stanfield said.
“As they were doing that, they reviewed all the plans to see where they should take that flow, using this truck to suck it out and take it somewhere else,” Stanfield continued. “They decided to put it in a nearby manhole and unfortunately, the crew found out that the sewer they were discharging into was not connected to the rest of the sewer system.”
With the pipeline not connected to the sewer system, the sewage ended up spilling into the nearby outfall.
“So, the pipeline was constructed several years ago, and it was never connected to the rest of the system,” Stanfield said. “This is unfortunately part of learning a new system.”
The City of San Juan Capistrano transferred its water and sewer utility to SMWD in November 2021. Though the water district has worked to map the city’s sewer system, “we haven’t got every inch of it yet, and unfortunately, this was one that we hadn’t had a chance to see,” Stanfield explained.
Stanfield added that as soon as the water district was aware of a spill occurring, SMWD reported it immediately. Stanfield added that in the aftermath of the spill, the water district has noted that that manhole “goes nowhere,” and it will evaluate whether it makes sense to connect the pipeline to the sewer system.