During the height of a weekend storm, the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo experienced a leak at its sewage treatment plant.
That leak was attributed to a malfunction at the prison's sewage treatment plant. The heavy rains did damage to the equipment, which led to a large, yet unknown, amount of primarily treated sewage to leak into Chorro Creek.
"There are certain bacteria and pathogens that can be discharged into the creek that can then find their way into the ocean that can cause respiratory illness, skin illnesses, things like that," explained Curtis Batson, San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Department.
In a press release from the SLO County Public Health Department, the start of the leak is documented at midnight Sunday, but in a statement from the California Men's Colony, they claim the incident started at 6:30 a.m.
"CMC staff took immediate action to safely redirect the overflow to a containment area and by 8 a.m. the overflow was completely redirected away from Chorro Creek," said Lieutenant John Hill, Public Information Officer for the California Men’s Colony.
The wastewater plant is currently stable and operating as intended. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says it will continue to look into the cause of the overflow and work with partners to prevent such incidents in the future.
Since then, the county’s Environmental Health Department has taken samples from Morro Bay City Beach, South Morro Strand, and North Morro Strand, looking for signs of bacteria. Those results are expected back in the next few days.
In the meantime, some local surfers are not letting the contaminated waters keep them at the shoreline, stating the risk is worth the reward. In this case, referring to the massive swells — some waves breaking at up to 16 ft post-storm system.
Other beachgoers are not sure it's worth it.
"Obviously, a lot of dangerous things could be in sewage and not to mention, it's gross," said tourist Brandon Barragan.
After any rainstorm, it is always advised to stay out of ocean water for at least 72 hours. During that period, the ocean has time to dilute the harmful bacteria that could have flowed into its waters thanks to the rain.
If results from the samples taken in Morro Bay come back positive, the Health Department will continue to follow up until the water comes back clean.