Storm Drain Fails on Embarcadero

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

February 23, 2023

A storm drain running under the Embarcadero failed, causing a depression in the roadway and the City of Morro Bay to conduct emergency repairs.

According to the City, the drain is located north of Beach Street and runs underneath the roadway, emptying into the bay.

“The Public Works Department hired a contractor to expose the area around the storm drain,” City Engineer Eric Riddiough said, “and has identified a failure of the storm drain line extending to both sides of Embarcadero Road.”

The City detoured traffic around the damage site, moving the cars into parking lots on either side of the roadway, as the repairs were being done. It was expected to take a couple of days to finish.

The drain is part of an extensive storm drainage system that runs throughout town and does a pretty good job of channeling normal rain runoff from the streets.

The elevation difference between the waterfront and uptown area is pretty steep, and rain runoff can be heavy and move swiftly downhill. There are more than 30 storm drains scattered along the Embarcadero business area that empty directly into the bay. Generally, rain falling on the southern end of town including the Downtown and Heights, enter storm drains and flow down to the bay. 

Maintaining all the storm drains, even just clearing them before winter, is a huge job and one the City had been falling behind on. So in 2006, voters approved Measure Q, a half-cent local sales tax that was promised to be spent on unfunded police and fire department needs; street repairs; and storm drain maintenance.

In December 2021, Assistant City Mgr., Sarah Johnson-Rios, issued a so-called AB 1600 Report, a State Law that requires cities to report the collection of impact fees and how they are spent. Included in that was an assessment on potential future projects paid for with “impact fees,” of which the City has several types.

The chart lists five “Under funded or unfunded storm drain projects” totaling over $5.22 million and none of them were on the Embarcadero. 

In the latest AB 1600 Report the City listed two storm drain projects — emergency repairs to drains on Sequoia Street and at Juniper and Elena, for a total of $203,000.

Storm drain failures can cause huge problems, for example in the March 10, 1995 mega storm, a storm drain vault — where several pipes empty into — in the 200 block of Main Street overflowed, causing a break in a storm drain leading down to the bay and what was at the time a fuel dock. 

When the storm drain failed, it shifted the bluff, which broke a fire water main that fed hydrants on the fuel dock and blew out a huge chunk of the bluff, including some of the road leading down to the docks.

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