The Castaic Animal Shelter lost its sewer line and main access road when water released from Castaic Lake washed out a wide swath of Tapia Canyon Road and severed a sewage line beneath it, county officials said Tuesday.
The road was washed out last Wednesday when Castaic Creek overflowed. Raw sewage from the shelter flowed into the Santa Clara River for several hours before it was detected early Thursday morning, shelter manager John Rozier said.
The spill created a minimal threat to health because the sewage volume was low at that hour and it mixed with a huge flow of storm water, Rozier said.
Since Thursday, sewage has been diverted into a storage tank at the shelter and employees have reduced their water use by scraping out animal cages and spot-scrubbing them with bleach instead of hosing them down.
Access to the shelter is now restricted to a zigzag route through the Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho, and motorists must be escorted by a shelter employee. As a result, the number of visitors seeking to adopt animals has been reduced to almost none, Rozier said.
Most visitors now are retrieving stray pets, he said. "I'm not getting the customers to come in to find any animals for their homes."
At the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Supervisor Mike Antonovich asked public works officials to try to make repairs as soon as possible.
Public works spokeswoman Jean Granucci said afterward that because the road also provides access to some residences, the Sheriff's Department is grading a dirt-road detour that might be completed as early as tonight.
Street and sewer repairs could take several months, she said, because the floodwaters washed out more than 200 feet of roadway.
The possibility of lengthy delays has caused Rozier and other animal control officials to worry that they might run out of room, forcing them to destroy animals sooner than usual.
Under county ordinance, stray animals must be kept at least a week. But in fact, they usually are kept longer unless the shelter becomes too crowded, said Frank R. Andrews, director of the Department of Animal Care and Control.
"My policy's always been that the minimum is seven days, but the maximum is what the space will permit," Andrews said.
So far, the animal population hasn't approached the maximum because access difficulties have also reduced the number of pets dropped off for adoption, Rozier said. About 100 dogs and 20 cats are being held there, he said, well below the capacity of 250 dogs and 98 cats.
The roadway and sewer also washed out during a storm in 1983. Repairs then took three months, but the animal population did not grow too large because the Santa Clarita Valley was less developed. Escorts across the Pitchess jail property were not required at that time.
The road and storm drainage system that passes under it were redesigned after the 1983 floods to handle a higher flow, Granucci said. "But even as redesigned, it couldn't handle the flows" last week, which peaked at about 4,000 gallons a second.