Raw sewage spills in Oakland behind zoo, and neighbors say it isn't the first time

Oakland's aging sewer system, served up another embarrassment this week, as raw sewage spilled down a creek near the Oakland Zoo. And neighbors say this isn't the first time.

On Thursday, Oakland sanitary septic sewer crews with suction and flushing equipment were working on Viejo Arroyo Creek which tracks down the Oakland Hill along Golf Links Road behind the Oakland Zoo. 

In several sections of the creek, the water is not clear at all. In fact, it's very much discolored and there was toilet paper floating around. It certainly did not smell like rose water. One thing is for sure, all of this stuff was flowing into the bay.    

The city says it only learned of the spill at 10 a.m. Thursday, based on nearby resident complaints and responded within an hour. The city said it reported the spill to the county and state water authorities.

Upstream, the city says it found a sanitary sewer manhole overflow, indicating a blocked sewer main, which the Department of Public Works says was cleared just before 5 p.m. It says it will spend the next day flushing the creek and sucking the contamination out.

Creekside neighbors, however, dispute that this was only a one-day problem.

"It's been going on for months I would say," said Claudia Debus, who, with her husband, Axel, live right above the creek where crews are working.

"I smell it every night. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago I reported it  to EBMUD and the city of Oakland. The smell is very pervading," said Axel Debus.

What did the city do?

"Nothing, nobody's responsible," he said.

His wife agreed: "Every time I took a shower, when I turned off the water and was drying myself, I would always get this sewage smell and I just thought our pipes were backing up or something was going on. But we had recently had them worked on and so, my husband told me it wasn't possible."

Six weeks ago, Loren Little,  the former supervisor or the sanitary sewer department, now in charge of storm sewers, said the  sewage problems throughout Oakland are pervasive.

 "Sanitary sewer systems that are actually compromised that are not being repaired in a timely fashion like they should be," said Little, who is now Oakland's storm sewers supervisor.

 County officials and the state water board say they were notified of this spill, but under a consent decree with the city of Oakland, they will investigate to confirm that the cause and amount of the spill are what the city reported.