No rain, but…flash flood at Sunset Cliffs?

Mystery water flow could be creating health hazard

Inexplicable waterfall during a record drought — somebody please explain?
  • Inexplicable waterfall during a record drought — somebody please explain?

Mid-afternoon on March 31, water flowed over the edge of Sunset Cliffs onto an area beach for at least two hours. There has been no rain in the area since March 1, according to the National Weather Service.

Beachgoers near runoff site

Beachgoers near runoff site

Periodically, this reporter and others have witnessed runoff at this area for up to two days. Now we have video.

Fresh water + salt = increased potential for Vibrio

Channel in sand hints at duration of flow

The last time water ran off this bluff was the weekend before Christmas during a rainstorm. At least four surfers got sick. Two went to the hospital and one, Barry Ault, died. The Centers for Disease Control got involved and monitored Ault and the other surfer that was hospitalized. They were diagnosed as having contracted an infection from the Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria.

The bacteria is present in ocean water and thrives in brackish water or when fresh water runs off into the sea. Warm to moderate ocean temperatures also help the bacteria to bloom.

Humans usually come in contact with Vibrio bacteria from eating raw oysters. Diagnosing infection by the bacteria requires specific testing, so many cases are reported as gastrointestinal illness. People with weakened immune systems are more at risk of experiencing the most severe symptoms and death. The CDC has made cases of Vibrio bacteria infection a nationally reportable disease.

Meanwhile, according to maps, tracing the canyon above the runoff site leads to Building 60, the US Space & Naval Warfare Systems site on the west side of Catalina Boulevard.

US Space & Naval Warfare Systems site

US Space & Naval Warfare Systems site

Nearby are two water tanks and a pipeline operated by the City of San Diego Wastewater Treatment Plant; however, it's unlikely that any unintentional discharge would have flowed into the canyon that led to the bluff.

Around mid-day on April 1, the video was sent to Brian O'Rourke, media relations officer at Navy Region-Southwest. He said he would look into the situation but as of 4 p.m. on April 2, he had yet to respond.

Water-resources engineer Brandi Outwin-Beals at the Regional Water Quality Control Board reviewed the video and characterized the flow as "significant."

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