A July sewage spill in Cannon Beach has led to an $1,800 fine, levied by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in late September.
“DEQ issued this penalty because raw sewage is a significant pollutant that can harm aquatic life, contaminate drinking water and impair recreational, commercial and agricultural uses of water,” according to an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality news release. “Discharging sewage poses a substantial threat to both public health and the environment.”
On July 20, the city cordoned off a portion of its beach after an equipment failure resulted in 11,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilling onto the sand in front of Wayfarer Restaurant and Lounge.
Public Works Director Dan Grassick said the internal power supply to the Gower Street pump station’s computer stopped working around 5:30 a.m. and alarms routed through the unit never went off. An emergency overflow pipe, permitted by DEQ, sent the sewage onto the sand instead of the middle of town.
One of Cannon Beach’s Public Works’ employees walked along the beach around 7:30 a.m. and noticed the spill
The city “immediately responded,” Grassick said, manually restarting the pump and removing contaminated sand. The area was marked off, signs were put up and DEQ, along with the Oregon Emergency Response System, were notified.
After the incident, Ecola Creek Watershed Council Chair Mike Manzulli said the city should have “closed the beach until the outfall water tested safe” and informed the public about the spill.
There weren’t any notices posted on the city’s website, Grassick said, because the spill didn’t make it to the surf.
Thomas Lossen with the Oregon Beach Monitoring Program said a public advisory would have been issued discouraging water contact had the contaminated water met the ocean. OBMP tests and issues advisories for marine water only.
The Ecola Creek Watershed Council has since asked the city “to go above the state requirements” and better notify the public when readings are high.
Using the E. coli test for freshwater, Public Works reopened the affected spillage area the following weekend in July after bacteria numbers dropped to a safe level. The state safety threshold is 406 organisms per 100 milliliters.
The presence of enterococci and E. coli may indicate pathogenic bacteria that can cause short-term health effects, such as diarrhea, cramps and nausea if ingested, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“DEQ appreciates the city’s work to correct the violation by immediately placing public warning signs around the discharge, cleaning up contaminated beach sand and improving the pump station equipment to prevent a repeat occurrence,” DEQ’s news release said. “DEQ considered these efforts when determining the amount of the penalty.”
In Grassick’s October report to the City Council, he wrote that the fine was the minimum “for an overflow and based on failure of the alarm’s systems at the station — an issue that was immediately corrected and is not an issue at any other lift station.”
The Gower Street pump station’s alarm system is now independent of its computer unit to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Cannon Beach was given until Oct. 15 to pay or appeal the penalty. Grassick said the fine was paid through wastewater operating revenues.