UPDATE: The beach was fully reopened by Tuesday afternoon.
The City of San Luis Obispo says while drone video shows brown water on the creek side of the beach, that is not all from the sewage spill. City officials says all of the water flushing the watershed due to the rain contributes to the brown water and is also why the public health department recommends people avoid contact with ocean water three days after significant rain storms like Saturday's storm and the one experienced Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
ORIGINAL STORY: On New Year's Eve, grease and rainwater built up in the sewer system and more than 4,200 gallons of sewage escaped from a line on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo causing a beach closure for a portion of Avila Beach.
“You get a break in the pipe, end up getting rainwater into the pipe, and then our sewer system is not designed to treat rainwater that extra flow,” said Chris Lehman, the deputy director of wastewater for the City of San Luis Obispo.
The extra flow entered a storm drain and flowed through San Luis Obispo Creak down to Avila Beach.
The County of San Luis Obispo shut down that portion of the beach but some beachgoers say they didn't know.
"We didn't notice the signs," said Maria Mariscal who was at the beach Monday.
Lazanna Ward Mustin, who lives in Avila Beach, said, “I haven’t noticed one sign and we just walked from San Luis Bay Estates here. We haven’t seen any signs.”
Lehman says the root cause of the spill is the combination of rain flow, breaks in the system, as well as fats, oils, and grease built up from the restaurants.
“City staff got the call, responded to the spill. We were unable to retrieve that 4,200 gallons of spilled volume. What the crews were able to do was to break through the blockage in our system that that caused the spill in the first place,” he said.
Lehman says Saturday's storm prevented some clean-up efforts from happening.
“If it was a dry event, then we have a large vacuum truck we're able to retrieve and clean up any spill and then we can also do a sanitizing of the affected area with bleach,” he explained.
County officials were unable to comment Monday on when the beach closure may be lifted.
After every significant storm system, even without a spill, public health officials recommend people stay out of the water for at least three days.
“I know that typically when it rains, there's lots of washes out into the creeks, down to the beach, so I'm not surprised. The creek's filthy,” said beachgoer Patty Smith.
Mariscal added, “We were going to have the boys get in the water, so when you told me about it, it was kind of, 'I'm glad they didn't get in'.”
The site at Avila Beach was tested Sunday but officials have not said when it will be re-tested.
According to Lehman, there are two things neighbors can do to help to prevent future spills including limiting the amount of grease introduced to the sewer and replacing private sewer lateral supporting.
He said, "The City does have a number of sewer lateral programs and it is in one of those programs is a rebate. So private homeowners are eligible for $2,000 to $3,000 of a rebate to incentivize replacing private sewer laterals."