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The streets shall run brown 

Call me a sentimental old fool, but I think there’s something special about this time of year. The weather gets blustery—by California standards, which is another way of saying that I spent the weekend engineering insulation for my flip-flops. People are cheerful, when they’re not bitching about how stressful the holidays are. Gingerbread men and women quake in fear; discarded eggnog cartons start to overtake the Christmas tree; and rivers of urine and feces course merrily through our fair cities. Compare yourselves to us in envy, Venice.


Ah fecal matter. It’s as iconic a harbinger of Christmas as “Jingle Bells” or spiny clusters of mistletoe dangling oh-so-conspicuously in entryways and doorframes. I used to think San Luis Obispo County was making some sort of symbolic statement when, come winter time, thousands of gallons of sewage went spewing into the Pacific Ocean. The new year was right around the corner, and we, too, could release our baggage and waste into the great abyss, unburdening us for the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of a new year. Suck on that, underpaid and underappreciated English teachers! Even Shredder can get metaphorical.

Then the new year came and went, and the sewage spills kept coming, and I started to realize that they weren’t a coded statement about what it means to be human or the challenges we all face. Our sewer systems are just ass-backward. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Cambria residents who were warned to avoid local beaches after more than 10,000 gallons of sewage cascaded magnificently into the Pacific following a power outage last week. And this is hardly an isolated incident, nor even the worst. By sewage spill standards, Cambria’s recent oopsie-daisy was downright welcome.

Last year around the same time, there was a severe storm and six county sewage systems went caput. The damage? Tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of gallons of crap—depending on which estimates you believe—made a break for the ocean. And all of the fancy water control boards and environmental councils threw up their hands, blamed the weather, and went back to shotgunning rum balls and texting Santa their lengthy lists of demands.

“Our multi-million-dollar sewer systems spew out toxic human waste if a sparrow sneezes on the control panel,” they shrugged. “What do you want from us? We could go out there and shovel it with our hands, but we’re a little busy here, what with the holiday parties and having to hire a raft cab to help us wade home.”

In January, the Cambria Community Services District reported that 15,000 gallons of sewage went flowing into Santa Rosa Creek. In March, a pipe broke and sewage seeped into Nacimiento Lake. Way to ring in the New Year, guys! I’ll bet that was a festive sight. A little later that same month, picturesque Shell Beach joined in the fun with 700 gallons flowing into the street. Apparently, sewage spills into the ocean or creek are for amateurs.

Maybe all of this is too much of a downer this close to Christmas. How about we work it into some kind of carol? On the 12th day of Christmas, Cambria gave to me, a bacterial infection in my knee. On the 11th day of Christmas, Nipomo gave to me, a ripe turd in my stocking. Is this working? Not really? Maybe I’ll skip to the part about the five golden urinal cakes.

My point is that we pay an awful lot for these sewer systems. Los Osos is on the hook for at least $173 million, and we’ll probably be hearing about a 15,000-gallon sewage spill the first winter after the sewer’s been constructed anyway. Why don’t we save ourselves the money and time and just void our bowels directly into the ocean? We’d probably save a few trees that way, too. And that way, the City of San Luis Obispo can stop coughing awkwardly and looking the other way every time the subject of downtown bathrooms comes up.

If we put it another way, a Cal Poly kid who gets caught taking a leak in an alleyway is arrested and labeled a public menace. And really, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what goes flowing through our creeks, streets, and ocean every time a sewer pipe bends the wrong way or a backup system doesn’t behave itself. We should probably shower the kid with gold, because at least the wasted little Neanderthal is producing a manageable payload.

The people who are paid to construct, manage, and monitor the sewer don’t get hauled into jail when tens of thousands of gallons of fecal matter are unceremoniously dumped in our creeks and ocean. They don’t return the money they were given for the job they only partially accomplished. Presumably, they go on to build other less-than-dependable sewers, and when those first telltale drops start to fall from the sky, they put on their waders and head for the hills, leaving me, mumbling like a lunatic about rivers of feces at Christmas.

So, in honor of a very merry Central Coast HanuKwanzaaFestivusMas, I’d like to propose a toast: May the shitstorm flow quickly and follow a wide berth away from your house, may your pets be strong swimmers, may the marine wildlife paddle quickly, may your possessions be waterproof, and may your shoes be washable.


Shredder’s washable. Send dryer sheets to


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