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City Is 'Lucky' that Sewage Didn't Leak Into Creek

A San Juan Capistrano sewer line pierced by a construction company doing work for Caltrans was scheduled to be back online Tuesday.

City workers said Tuesday they are "incredibly lucky" that sewage didn't spew from a pipe punctured by freeway construction crews two weeks ago.

"A spill would have immediately put raw sewage into the San Juan Creek—a sensitive zone for wildlife and vegetation," said West Curry, San Juan Capistrano's assistant director of utilities.

On Oct. 11, Caltrans construction crews pierced all the way through a 21-inch main, and it's half-inch steel casing, while driving piles to widen the San Juan Creek bridge at the 5 freeway.

The main carries 2 of the city's 3 million gallons of daily sewage. It sat punctured for two days until city workers did a routine check of a manhole and noticed a high volume of sand had seeped in. Concerned a spill might be imminent, crews from San Clemente, the South Coast Water District and the Santa Margarita District converged to prevent any leakage.

Curry said Tuesday that it was sheer luck that sewage didn't spill.

"In all the years I’ve been in the business, I’ve never ever seen a thing like this when we didn’t have a spill," said Raymond Miller, the chair of the San Juan Capistrano Utilities Commission.

Curry said he expects the city to bill Caltrans more than $100,000 for all of the costs associated with keeping two pumper trucks and one city worker on 24/7 standby. A Caltrans spokeswoman said the contractor, Beador Construction is responsible for paying for the repairs. 

The main will be back online starting Tuesday, unless city crews are able to do some routine maintenance work, in which case it will be back online within a week.

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