About 6 million gallons of raw sewage have spilled into the Arroyo Simi flood channel in Moorpark through a ruptured pipeline in what was described Thursday as Ventura County's worst sewage spill in a decade.
The largest pipeline breaks were repaired last week, shortly after the pipes were ruptured by the torrential runoff from a series of storms. But about 400,000 gallons of raw sewage continue to pour each day from smaller breaks in eastern Moorpark, and county officials are warning nearby residents to stay away from the water.
"It doesn't pose any significant health threat," said Robert Williamson, a county Environmental Health Department manager, as long as people avoid contact with contaminated water. To further reduce the risk, county workers continue to pour hundreds of pounds of powdered chlorine every day into the sewage pipeline to kill bacteria before the sewage runs into the channel.
From there, the sewage is carried by runoff from last week's storms down the arroyo through Camarillo, dumping into the Calleguas Creek and finally Mugu Lagoon, officials said.
"The further down the arroyo, the less of a problem it is," Williamson said. He said the county considers any sewage spill greater than 25,000 gallons per day a major spill.
The two or three remaining sewage pipe ruptures are near the intersection of Avenida Colonia and Condor Drive, adjacent to a neighborhood of 40 to 50 homes called the Virginia Colony.
Health officials posted warning signs last week, and this week they went door to door issuing leaflets in English and Spanish.
"All we were doing in the handout is warning residents that there is raw sewage going into the arroyo and to avoid contact with the thing," Williamson said.
If people touch the water and then touch their mouths, he said, "There may be some mild nausea, vomiting and diarrhea." In extreme cases, contact with the contaminated water could cause hepatitis, he said.
The leaflets have heightened fears among the area's residents, despite the county's effort to sterilize the sewage with chlorine. "People are still leery," said Anthony W. Simen, a Virginia Colony resident. "You got raw sewage running all through behind the backs of your houses."
The worst sewage spills occurred on the other side of Moorpark last week, after the rains washed out two flood control levees that encased sewage pipes, said Reddy Pakala, manager of the Ventura County Waterworks Districts. He described the spills as the most serious he can recall in the past 10 years.
One of the ruptures occurred on the bank just south of where Tierra Rejada Road crosses the channel, he said. The other was located just north of the Hitch Boulevard bridge on the city's western outskirts.
"What happened was the flood control levee on the embankment washed away," he said, causing the sewer lines to come apart at the joints and spill millions of gallons of raw sewage.
The pipeline break near Tierra Rejada Road was discovered on Feb. 12, at the height of last week's series of storms. Two days later, county workers installed a pump that sucks sewage from the pipeline through one manhole and sends it down into another manhole about 400 feet away, avoiding the broken area of pipe, Pakala said.
The pipeline break near Hitch Boulevard was discovered Saturday, and a pump was installed there Monday.
The smaller leaks near Virginia Colony were also caused by rains washing away a flood control levee, Pakala said. County workers discovered two leaks there on Saturday, he said. They suspect a third leak, he said, but have been unable to get repair equipment near the muddy embankment, which is covered with trees and brush and is hundreds of yards from the nearest road.
Pakala said his department expects to install one pump in the area today, which should reduce the spill to about 6,000 gallons a day. County workers hope to put in a second pump by Monday, stopping the spill entirely, he said.
Pakala estimated it will cost $800,000 to repair the sewage pipeline and four broken waterlines that are also leaking into the Arroyo Simi. The county flood control department expects to spend millions of dollars more to repair the three levees, he said.
Officials said they do not think the spill and the chlorine present any danger to the wildlife that live in the channel or Mugu Lagoon. "We are chlorinating, so it only kills bacteria," Pakala said. The level of chlorination in the channel, he said, is "much, much less than in a swimming pool, less than drinking water."
Meanwhile, a team of federal and state disaster officials toured Ventura County for a second day Thursday to assess other storm-related damage. Based on the team's findings, Gov. Pete Wilson will decide whether to ask for a disaster declaration from President Bush.
A federal declaration would open assistance programs that include grants to displaced families, temporary housing, unemployment insurance and Small Business Administration loans, said Karen Guidi, assistant director of the Ventura County Office of Emergency Services.
Without the federal declaration, only funds to repair public facilities will be available, she said. While the county sustained nearly $8 million in damage to its roads and facilities, Guidi said it is the residents of the county who feel the disaster most acutely.
"It's really hard on the individual," Guidi said. "Having a road go out is one thing, but being displaced from your home is very difficult."
Guidi said early assessments indicate that about 250 homes in the county sustained significant damage last week.
She urged any residents with damaged property to call the emergency services office or their city hall to report their losses. That will help determine whether the county becomes eligible for federal assistance, she said.
The American Red Cross shelter at De Anza Middle School in Ventura closed, but a center at the Ventura County Fairgrounds remains open to help, Guidi said.
At the peak of the Feb. 12 storm, 4.35 inches of rain fell in Matilija Canyon above Ojai, swelling area creeks and sending the Ventura River racing to the sea in a torrent.
Arnold Hubbard, owner of the Ventura Beach R.V. Resort that sits in the normally dry mouth of the Ventura River, said his park sustained $1.7 million in damage when it was flooded with mud and water from the river.
He said he will apply for disaster assistance if it becomes available, because his flood insurance will cover only about $500,000 in damage.
No additional storms are expected in the county for at least a week to 10 days, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Terry Schaeffer in Santa Paula.
Davis is a Times correspondent, and Miller is a Times staff writer. Times staff writer Carlos V. Lozano contributed to this report.
Ventura County Disaster Assistance Residents in Ventura County who sustained damage from the Feb. 12 storm and resulting floods are asked to report losses to the following agencies to help officials assess the need for federal disaster assistance.
* In the unincorporated county: Ventura County Sheriff's Office of Emergency Services at 648-9257
* In Fillmore: Fire Department Chief Pat Askren at 524-3701
* In Oxnard: Oxnard Fire Department Capt. Richard Elliot at 486-4311, Ext. 2421
* In Port Hueneme: Jack Duffy at 986-6508
* In Santa Paula: Steve Stuart at 933-4215
* In Simi Valley: Mike Adams at 583-6982
Residents who have emergency needs for food or shelter should call the Ventura County Chapter of the American Red Cross at 656-5560.