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Workers Stem Sewage Flow to Newport Bay

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Work crews Saturday stemmed the flow of raw sewage from a ruptured pipeline, but not before more than 1 million gallons of effluent spilled into San Diego Creek and washed into Newport Bay.

A 200-foot section of the pipe was washed away by gushing water from last week’s heavy rains. Workers who labored around the clock Friday night and Saturday built a bypass and plugged the leak about 3 p.m. Saturday.

“The storm eroded the whole creek bed,” said Joyce Wegner-Gwidt, spokeswoman for the Irvine Ranch Water District. “It’s not uncommon for this to happen in big storms, but when you see the force of that water you can understand why the pipeline burst.”

Lifeguards posted dozens of signs at Newport Bay warning beach-goers not to enter the contaminated water, which may be contain bacteria that can cause intestinal problems.

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“There can be no water contact because of the risk of infection, due to bacteria, is higher,” said Newport Beach Marine Safety Officer Eric Bauers. “Any of the urban runoff can be potentially harmful.”

About 5,500 people were on the beach Saturday, including some die-hard surfers who were restricted to uncontaminated waters away from Newport Bay, said Bauers.

Officials expect to reopen the bay by Tuesday, after the sewage flushes itself out of the area.

The pipeline, which serves as a conduit for an average of 750,000 gallons of sewage per day from an industrial area in Irvine, is buried 15 feet underground in the Serrano Wash creek bed, near the intersection of Muirlands Boulevard and Alton Parkway.

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The damaged line was discovered Friday by a farmer clearing debris from San Diego Creek, but officials said it could have ruptured as early as Tuesday.

That would have allowed 2 million gallons of sewage to pour down the creek. But because there has been little flow through the pipeline since late Friday afternoon, Wegner-Gwidt estimated that 1.2 million gallons of sewage had spilled.

The original clay sewer pipe could not be repaired because of storm conditions. The quickest solution was to install a temporary plastic bypass to the pipe, which crews are certain will withstand any upcoming storms, Wegner-Gwidt said.

Work on a permanent pipeline will begin next week.

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