If you’re considering diving Lovers Point in Pacific Grove this week – or in the waters around this area – you might want to change your plans.
On Monday, more than 100,000 gallons of raw sewage (with some reports saying it may be as much as 250,000 gallons) spilled at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove for more than six hours, creating a hazard for scuba divers, paddle boarders, and just about anyone else who enjoys the ocean and beaches in Monterey.
The total amount of raw sewage that spilled into the ocean at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove on Monday increased to 220,000 gallons, according to most recent estimates.
The spill reportedly happened when Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency workers were doing maintenance repairs at a pump station on Ocean View Boulevard at Lovers Point. A plug valve apparently failed at 10:30 a.m.
According to Paul Sciuto of Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control, “one of the valves didn’t seat properly (meaning it didn’t close), and the wastewater that is usually pumped to the treatment plant was flowing back into the pump station and was flooding it.”
The broken valve caused the station itself to flood and fill with sewage, and electrical power was cut off to prevent an electrocution hazard to the workers. 100,000 gallons then flowed into the Monterey Bay instead of being pumped uphill to the sewage treatment facility.
Emergency telephone calls were made to local residents through an automated system, urging them to not flush their toilets and avoid using water while the problem was being contained. The valve was finally fixed at 5:30pm – about 7 hours after the spill began.
The recreational walking, hiking, and biking trail was closed to the public from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to Point Pinos. Lovers Point Beach was also closed, as well as all beaches one mile to the north and one mile to the south of it. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located just 1 mile north of the spill at Lovers Point.
Scott Kathey, emergency response coordinator for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, told KSBW news that cleaning sewage out of the ocean is impossible.
“From an environmental standpoint, there is nothing we can do mechanically to recover it from the ocean. There is no method for cleaning other than let the ocean assimilate it, allow sunlight to breakdown bacteria,” Kathey said.
“On land you can treat it with bleach and vacuum it up. You can’t do that in an aquatic environment,” he said.
There is no word on how long it will take for the ocean to become safe again to watersports enthusiasts, but for now, it’s best not to go back into the water. Lab workers will test the water for contamination and high bacteria levels, and announce when the water is once again safe.