Crews Work to Repair Modesto Sewage Treatment Pipe

MODESTO -- Sand bags and several plastic barriers are stopping millions of gallons of water from the swollen Tuolumne River from flowing into the Sutter Avenue sewage treatment plant in Modesto.

But there's a problem -- a massive hole in an underwater pipe on the river.

"The hole is probably, I don't know, forty foot by twenty foot," Laura Anhalt said. "It's pretty deep."

Anhalt is a manager of the sewage plants in Modesto. She says they believe the hole was the main source of the large amount of water getting into the Sutter Avenue plant since Monday.

The plant usually processes 20 million gallons of water per day. Since Monday, the plant has been processing 40 to 50 million gallons per day, and now, its storage ponds are nearly full. But Anhalt says since the problem was isolated Thursday, they have seen improvements in water coming in.

"This morning the flows have decreased by 50 percent, so that's a good thing," Anhalt said.

With those sandbags and plastic barriers in place, crews can finally work on patching the hole.

"So, the barrier appears to have held over night," Anhalt said. "The hole still got water in it, but we've got a pump out there, we'll be pumping it down today and a crane is on its way, probably to top the pipe off with another pipe."

If the repairs don't hold up, 30 million gallons of partially treated sewage water will be dumped into the San joaquin River from the Jennings sewage treatment plant, about seven miles from the damaged pipeline.

Officials are hopeful that won't be the case. Still, if it were to happen, residents would want to avoid that water. It would be 90 percent processed, but bacteria would still be present.

"It would be non-drinkable water. We use that same water to irrigate with year-round on the ranch, so it's not horrible water," Anhalt said. "But it's not water I would go playing in."