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Guerneville sewage spill shows no significant damage or threat

  • At a small community park at Orchard and Beach west of Guerneville, employees of the Sonoma County Water Agency, from left, Dennis Davis Eric Anderson, and Dion Barker help to strip mud and bark from the area Friday Feb. 14, 2014 after 100,000 gallon sewage spill Thursday. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Water quality officials said Friday that preliminary tests showed no significant environmental damage or threats to public health as a result of the worst raw sewage spill into the Russian River in more than a decade.

But the estimated 100,000-gallon spill near Guerneville spotlights concerns that the aging pipes that transport sewage beneath and near the river for miles may be at risk for more ruptures.

“I think we have a system that is aging at this point, just like almost all of the systems we are operating, and these kinds of things happen,” said Pam Jeane, assistant general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Thursday’s spill raised immediate concerns for the environment, and prompted officials with the Sweetwater Springs water system to shut off wells and use stored water for about 1,000 customers in the Monte Rio area.

The pumps were turned back on at about 9 a.m. Friday after tests revealed no signs of contamination, General Manager Steve Mack said.

“It’s over. We’re back to normal,” he said.

County public health officials posted signs at beaches downstream from the spill warning people not to swim in the water.

The county took water samples to test for E. coli, a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections and other illnesses. The results were expected Saturday, said Christine Sosko, Environmental Health Section Manager for the county’s Department of Health Services.

Sosko said based on the river’s strong flow, officials were “not anticipating” the sewage spill to cause any health problems.

State water quality officials are conducting their own investigation, which could lead to fines or other penalties levied against the county Water Agency, which operates the sewer system.

“Certainly there was a discharge into the river. There’s no question it’s a violation,” said Matt St. John, executive officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

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