Trees the root cause of major Highway 150 Christmas Eve sewage spill

January 03, 2014
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times 

Tree roots were blamed for a blockage and overflow of a sewer line that caused Highway 150 to be closed Christmas Eve day for more than an hour.

According to Interim Public Works Director Brian Yanez, the spill was reported at about 9 a.m. December 24 between Richard Road and High Street in the 500 block of Santa Paula-Ojai Road/Highway 150.

Yanez said the spill caused the highway to be shut down and traffic detoured around the block after city staff responded to the scene and determined there was a major blockage of a sewer line.

About 5,000 gallons of sewage spilled before the line could be repaired.

“Out street guys came out and building and grounds personnel assisted us,” as a sand berm was constructed to contain the flow and prevent it from reaching storm drains.

Yanez said staff used the city owned Vactor truck to vacuum up the sewage: “We had to close the road but it was pretty quick, staff did a pretty good job minimizing the traffic impacts, especially since it was Christmas Eve.

“I’m just glad,” noted Yanez, “that it didn’t happen later in the evening...”

Tree roots that had grown into the line were the root of the problem and regular inspections conducted by contractor Ventura Regional Sanitation District “must have missed” the trouble spot.

“VRSD was doing some of it,” Yanez said of the monitoring and maintenance, “but it was not being done on a regular basis...we have two lines on Highway 150 and someone forgot that one,” that over time became clogged with tree roots and caused the sewage spill.

Although contracted out, Yanez said city staff continues to handle some line maintenance, “Doing some things...they flushed the main line below the freeway east to west. We have one staffer who knows the trouble spots,” in the city’s aging sewer system and tries to monitor same.

With the New Year American Water is taking over the city’s sewer maintenance needs; Yanez said the company was the winning bidder on the contract and will replace VRSD which held the contract for approximately 14 months.

The city purchased the Vactor truck for approximately $300,000 in about 2010 with an eye towards bringing the work in-house; in April 2012 the council agreed to hire two temporary employees to do the work which Councilman Rick Cook said would save the city approximately $100,000 annually over the contract cost of more than $250,000 a year.

Ultimately, the council agreed to hire temporary workers until the contract was awarded.

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