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Thursday, February 18, 2016

UPDATED: Why S.F. Can Smell Like Poo When It Rains

Posted By on Thu, Feb 18, 2016 at 11:22 AM

click to enlarge cruwhitu8aasqe5.jpg
Dump on our fair city like a tech guy with a blog or an out-of-towner amazed at the discovery of street people all you want, but San Francisco does not generally smell like shit (unless you happen to be standing next to a freshly-deposited pile of feces, which is plausible).

One exception to this smell rule, however, is when it rains. Last night, during the storm that dumped 0.66 inches of rain on the city — including the barrage of hail around midnight — a distinctive odor appeared around 17th and Folsom streets, in the city-owned gym at 21st and Harrison streets, and around Fell and Broderick streets.

That was doo-doo, baby — and the source is the city's sewers, which, as SF Weekly reported in the fall, have the unfortunate knack of disgorging their contents whenever there's a hard rain.

In San Francisco, we have one sewer system — a combined wastewater and stormwater system. That means that the same pipes that bring sewage to either the Bayview or the zoo (the location of the two main wastewater treatment plants) are the same pipes that bring rainwater away.

One pipe for every flow. - SFWATER
  • SFWater
  • One pipe for every flow.

The problem is that when the stormwater system is overwhelmed and backs up, it backs up sewage along with runoff from the streets.

And the stormwater system can be often overwhelmed in a rain.

In our day, we had children play around combined stormwater/wastewater runoff, no problem.

That last post was a month ago from one of the neighbors on Cayuga Avenue in the Outer Mission
. Like 17th and Folsom, Cayuga Avenue is a low-lying area that used to be a body of water in pre-city days. Unlike 17th and Folsom, which is one of the lowest-lying areas, Cayuga has the misfortune of being downstream from areas that have had addition stormwater drains added.

That means those higher areas don't have backups — but when there is a backup, sewage from all over the city bubbles up in Cayuga.

Last night might not have been too bad. There weren't public complaints made via the @SF311 Twitter feed. (A spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission did not immediately respond to a request for complaints made in the last 24 hours).

UPDATE: The Instagram image of sewage-related detritus on the street in Cayuga came not from a backed-up sewer, but from a broken pipe connecting the sewer to a house, according to SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue.
And those puddles in the street are likely from clogged catch basins, he added, not a backup.
Nonetheless, when there's a whiff of something ripe in the air when it rains, you can likely look to the pipes for the source.
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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