Was Qualcomm Stadium flooded recently by sewage or rainwater?

by on December 29, 2010 · 13 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, San Diego

by Andy Cohen and Frank Gormlie

Last week you probably remember was one of the wettest weeks in recent San Diego history. The San Diego River flooded of course, as did the Mission Valley golf course, and a number of hotels were surrounded by water. In fact one hotel, the Premier Inn, had to ferry its guests out by rubber raft, it got so bad.

And in the midst of all this, the Qualcomm parking lot took a major hit, practically being submerged, and the stadium ground level itself was under water.  But miraculously, Qualcomm was cleared out by crews working around the clock, and by time the Poinsettia Bowl rowed around (no pun intended), the football field, the seats, and everything else was ready to go.

One of the conversations rowing around the OB Rag office this past week was whether sewage from the flooding actually got into the stadium itself.  Instead of the Poinsettia Bowl, perhaps the place could have been nicknamed the “Toilet Bowl.”

Here are some particulars to consider:

  • the Santee wastewater facility flooded, sending 1.2 million gallons of sewage into the San Diego River.
  • Ocean Beach beaches were closed off due to sewage contamination – officially for five days – due to the estimated 750,000 gallons of sewage that hit the pristine area.
  • there were photos and videos of Qualcomm Stadium and it surrounding huge parking lot covered with “brown” water.
  • it would have been a major PR headache if the City/ Qualcomm/ Poinsettia Bowl people had admitted that San Diego River water and the sewage actually flooded the stadium.

During a bike ride through parts of Mission Valley earlier this week, I was prevented from continuing eastward along my usual route along the River due to areas still under water.  I found a couple of City workers from wastewater maintenance monitoring the situation near Fashion Valley and asked them a few questions.

First, they acknowleged that the due to the Santee mishap, sewage got into the River water. Second, they did agree that anywhere the River flooded, there would have been sewage present. But third, they denied that any sewage water got into Qualcomm. Their point was that even if some sewage got into the stadium, it was such a small fraction of the total volume of rainwater and river water, that its impact was insignificant.

Andy Cohen, one of our OB Rag reporters, was at the Poinsettia Bowl, and as he used to work for the Padres and then the Chargers, says “no,” the sewage-tainted waters did not reach inside the stadium.  Here’s his take on what happened and why:

The flooding that led to the massive cleanup effort prior to last Thursday’s Poinsettia Bowl game between the Naval Academy and San Diego State was unlikely to have come from an overflowing San Diego River that flooded large portions of the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot.

The ground from the southern boundary of the parking lot (essentially the San Diego River) to the gates of the stadium itself– and even the east tunnel– is at a somewhat significant uphill grade, making it impossible for water to flow from the river to the stadium itself. In fact, only portions of the parking lot’s outer ring were flooded.

However, there are other factors that significantly contributed to the flooding of the stadium floor itself. Most people are not aware that the stadium field is right up against the water table. Remember, the lower bowl of the stadium is a dug out pit and descends approximately 30 feet below normal ground level. During times of excessive rainfall, the water table rises, putting the field partially under water.

Also consider that with seven days straight of heavy rainfall, a bowl shaped structure such as Qualcomm Stadium tends to collect water: Rainwater falls into the seating areas and drains downward onto the field, collecting into a pool. Being that it’s so close to the water table, there is no real drainage system in place to deal with excessive water on the field.

It was this proximity to the water table that foiled plans to lower the field by five feet when the stadium was expanded in 1996. The idea was to lower the field in order to eliminate the view obstruction from the first eight rows of seating in the field level (fans sitting in those seats have their view of the action partially blocked by the players standing on the sideline). But by doing so it would have exposed the field to flooding in the event of even a moderate rainstorm. Thus those plans were scrapped.

If and when we find out anything differently, we’ll let you know.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

dave rice December 29, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Quite interesting – though I wasn’t privy to the staff office conversations, some of the same thoughts regarding the content of the flood waters crossed my mind…


just my 2 cents December 29, 2010 at 7:10 pm

What a shock nobody wants to admit that crap water possibly ” could” have gotten into the lot and field.


OBWarZone December 30, 2010 at 10:49 am

It is what it is, they can’t cancel the game. And they aren’t not going to steam wash the 150 acre parking lot. Come on, it was a flood. Flood water is brown. 1 million gallons is a drop in the bucket compared to what was flowing through Mission Valley that week. This article is a stretch at best.


Andy Cohen December 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm

The brown in the water was mud, plain and simple. Sure, it’s possible that some of the sewage flowed through, but it’s unlikely that any significant amount of it could have sat. And the only way for any of the sewage to have gotten into the stadium itself would have been if the river had overflowed all the way up and into the stadium, which did not happen. Whatever sewage there was most likely flowed on by and through the parking lot with the rest of the river water and down into the ocean, where the tide pushed it onto the beaches of Ocean Beach.

I’m still waiting for more information from the Mayor’s office.


Andy Cohen December 30, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I just received confirmation from Bill Harris at the City that the river water DID NOT flow into the stadium itself, and that the flooding on the field was from the rain water. Thus, no sewage whatsoever made its way into the stadium and onto the field level.


Christopher Moore January 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Yeah I worked the Poinsettia Bowl, and what little water was left didn’t have any sort of funky smell to it, thankfully.


Frank Gormlie December 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm

We raised this issue because it was a reasonable question, given the nature of the flooding, the proximity of the Stadium to the overflowing San Diego River, and how a possible PR headache for sports-oriented San Diego was at least brought up in the blogosphere that makes up this town.


Andy Cohen December 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm

The first place I saw it was actually in the LA Times, but they didn’t exactly do their homework on the subject. And the figure I got was 1.5 million gallons, not the 750,000 in the LA Times story.



editordude December 30, 2010 at 5:32 pm

We ran that LA Times article. The estimates are that the original Santee spill was 1.2 M but OB only had .75 M.


Marisag December 31, 2010 at 10:55 am

Enjoyable article even though I don’t watch football. I did see the flooded lot as I drove by. It’s good to know the young men playing on the field weren’t exposed to raw sewage.


John Lawrence December 31, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Another question: how much did it cost for the prodigious cleanup? And who paid for it? The taxpayers? I bet the price tag was in the millions, but there is only spare change for the homeless.

Football must go on regardless of the cost in health or money, but the rest of the city can go to hell!


RB January 1, 2011 at 10:39 am

The taxpayers are always on the hook. The city is responsible for maintenance at the stadium. We spend millions on a schoolbrary, Petco, the Q, and billions on employee pensions so of course there is only spare change for the homeless.


Seth January 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I dunno, man. Many San Diegans are so unused to bad weather and so averse to taxes that they don’t realize that this is actually a pretty standard role for municipal governments and a desirable use of tax dollars. The fact of the matter is that the City is actually too underfunded to do as good a job with storm water mitigation as what needs to be done. Seriously… this storm left us with widespread flooding, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage flowing unabated into the river and directly out to out beaches. That to me is not evidence that we are spending too much money on the problem.


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