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Breaker blamed for sewage spill

GRANTS PASS — A tripped circuit breaker is being blamed for 1,750 gallons of raw sewage spilling into the Rogue River about 12:20 a.m. Sunday, said Tim Wilson, water-restoration plant superintendent for the city of Grants Pass.

A power outage at 11:40 p.m., which affected 17,500 Pacific Power customers, caused a backup power system to fire up at the plant. Wilson said something caused the circuit breaker to trip, which kept raw sewage pumps from starting.

Any time the power goes off, an alarm alerts plant staff, who responded within 30 minutes. The sewage backed up to the point of overflowing just before someone arrived to activate the pump. The flow of sewage lasted just four minutes.

"We just missed catching it before it went," Wilson said.

Staff are attempting to find out why the breaker tripped.

The amount of sewage is small compared with past incidents. On Dec. 5, 2007, 11,570 gallons went into the Rogue because of equipment failure, and on June 7, 2002, 17,000 gallons went in after a power outage.

On Dec. 31, 2005, the amount was 200,000 gallons, but the Rogue River was flooding. The plant cannot control the flow during large floods, Wilson said.

The Rogue River was flowing at about 1,500 cubic feet per second when the incident occurred early Sunday morning.