Water alert canceled for residents in S. San Francisco neighborhood

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Update: On Saturday, California Water Service cancelled the precautionary do-not-drink advisory for the Sunset Gardens residents in South San Francisco. The service says the follow-up test results confirmed the water quality was not impacted by the breach at the utility's facility on Friday morning. 

Residents in the Sunshine Gardens neighborhood of South San Francisco are advised to not use water for cooking or drinking. California Water Service issued an alert Friday evening, saying there was a breach of a storage tank that serves the area.

According to Colma police, the breach was discovered when police responded at about 10 a.m. to a report of a suspicious circumstance in the 2500 block of Hillside Boulevard, which is property owned by Cal Water.    

At the property, police found that the outside of a Cal Water tank had been vandalized with spray paint, police said. Authorities aren't sure that's all the vandals left behind.

The alert affects about 1,000 residents. Customers received automated phone calls, and door-to-door visits regarding the advisory. 

Initial tests indicate that water quality has not been compromised, but as a precautionary measure, residents have been told to use bottled water and to save their receipts for reimbursement until more information is available. 

Comprehensive test results of the water are due Saturday.

"This is the first time in 52 years I've lived here, never seen this happen," resident Mike Ornellas told KTVU, "but nothing in this world today, surprises me, nothing." 

"I think there should have been a lot more security up there at the tanks after 9/11," said customer Michael McShane. "You know those are vulnerable when they're sitting up there by themselves like that. There should have been some kind of cameras or lighting up there."

The vandalism was found in a routine inspection Friday morning: 8-foot tall letters -"F" and "M"- were painted on the smaller of two tanks which has a 250,000 gallon capacity.

Sometime overnight, vandals climbed a 25-foot tank on Hillside Blvd. 

To do it, the taggers had to cut several locks, and climb onto the top, where a hatch into the water lies under a screen.

"It appears one of the locks was cut there, but we don't think the tank was breached," explained California Water Service manager Mike Utz. "It's a very heavy screen, and it would take four big men to move it. We don't think it was moved."

The situation is under investigation with cooperation from the state Division of Drinking Water (DDW)  as well as local law enforcement. Test results should be provided over the next few days, according to Cal Water. 

Bottled water is available for pickup at 92 Chestnut Avenue in South San Francisco until 9 p.m. Friday night and again starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday. 

"I've got two little cats and they don't know any better, " customer Adrina Gibson told KTVU, "so it's not just a precaution for ourselves, but the pets as well, because we don't know what's in there. They can't tell us yet." 

Police told the water service the tags are gang-related; they've seen them before.

The agency says such occurrences are rare. It serves about 100,000 water customers on the Peninsula.

For more information, call Cal Water’s Customer Center at 650-558-7800 or watch this page for updates.

Anyone with information about the vandalism is being asked to call Colma police at (650) 997-8321 or the anonymous tip line at (650) 997-8337.