Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Transportation & Infrastructure
Published on November 29, 2016
Despite 311 Calls, Cole Valley Sidewalk Sewer Leak Vexes Pedestrians [Updated]Photo: Eliza N./Hoodline

Thanks to eagle-eyed tipster Eliza N., we've learned that a sewer line on the 700 block of Cole Street is ...malfunctioning.

Although symbols spray-painted in the street suggest that utility workers intend to take a closer look, "recurrent episodes of used toilet paper, shit and piss and whatever else" have been "oozing onto the sidewalk," Eliza told us via text. (When we visited yesterday, bits of used toilet paper were still apparent.)

Flecks of dried toilet paper were stuck to the curb/sidewalk. | PHOTO: WALTER THOMPSON/HOODLINe

The pipe that conveys waste from a residence to the city sewer main is called a private sewer lateral. In this case, the leak appears to be emanating via the cleanout—a capped vertical pipe in the sidewalk that opens to let plumbers inspect the lateral and remove blockages.

If the leak is coming from the private lateral, the homeowner will be on the hook to cover the repairs; depending on the line's configuration, the expense can reach five figures.

According to San Francisco Water Power Sewer, more than 30 percent of the city's 1,000+ miles of sewage pipe are more then a century old and "some date back to the Gold Rush!" The agency's website reports that repair work "typically takes anywhere from two days to two weeks."

The street in front of the leak appears to have been marked by utility workers.

It's not clear how long the street has been marked, but Eliza said she's witnessed the leak "at least six times" and has reported it via 311.

In the meantime, "people are walking through it unknowingly and spreading the toxic waste about," said Eliza, who has "seen kids jumping in it thinking it's a regular puddle."

To warn passersby of the hazard, she taped multiple signs to the sidewalk, but "the rain 'cleaned it up' and my signs are gone," she said.

Hoodline also filed a 311 report regarding the leak; if we smell victory, we'll post an update here.

[Update: 12/1/16, 3:20pm] Jean Walsh, Communication Manager for San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, contacted Hoodline to let us know that work crews have visited 777 Cole St. several times to clean up the mess and will begin making repairs "within ten days."

Walsh said sewer leaks are generally cleaned up within 4 hours of receiving a report, but getting a permit to repair a leaky lateral takes time. "It may not seem like we're doing anything, but the wheels are turning back here," she said.

Have you seen something nasty/interesting/newsworthy in your travels around San Francisco? Text your tips to (415) 200-3233, and we'll dig into it.