SAN DIEGO — A Pacific storm bringing heavy surf spelled more trouble Sunday for contaminated San Diego County beaches, and shut down efforts to repair a damaged sewage pipe.
Health officials said the contamination off Ocean Beach was decreasing, but they were concerned that the storm might reverse that trend.
As storm waves broke over the deck of a repair barge Sunday night, workers were airlifted to shore and the barge was towed into San Diego Bay.
A 20-mile stretch of coastline from the Mexican border to the San Diego River remained closed because of high bacteria counts from two sewage spills: the undetermined amount of raw sewage flowing down the Tijuana River into U.S. waters, and the 180 million gallons of partially treated sewage spewing every day from the city's nine-foot-diameter broken sewage outfall pipe, said Ruth Covill, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Health Services Department.
Repair work on the sewage pipeline began Saturday, and one-ton boulders were being dumped at the site of the main break Sunday in an attempt to shore up supports around the pipe. It has been spewing treated sewage into 35-foot-deep water less than a mile offshore since Feb. 2, said Roger Frauenfelder, deputy city manager.
With increasing surf, however, repair efforts were suspended at 6 p.m. The repair barge crews will resume 12-hour-a-day work shifts when weather permits, he said.
Repairs are expected to take six to eight weeks and cost $10 million, city officials said.
The more serious spill of untreated sewage flowing down the Tijuana River was caused by the shutdown of the Tijuana sewage treatment plant Friday, after runoff from an earlier storm overloaded the Mexican facility.
Covill said the Tijuana plant remained closed and an undetermined amount of sewage continued to flow down the river on the U.S. side of the border, where waves and tidal action moved it north along San Diego County beaches.
Coliform bacteria tests taken by San Diego city and county teams along the shoreline over the weekend indicated that contamination in the area affected by the untreated Mexican sewage remained at extremely high levels in Imperial Beach and Coronado.
But bacteria counts appeared to be back to normal in the Ocean Beach area north of Point Loma, near where the pipeline break occurred.
If more tests bear out the preliminary readings, Covill said, the quarantine of waters off Ocean Beach may be lifted, "unless this storm comes in and pushes the sewage contamination northward again."
U.S. Weather Service forecasts call for heavy surf with breakers reaching 10 feet by tonight.