When the Sept. 8 blackout hit San Diego, it left millions without power and sent millions of gallons of sewage into the ocean. Two key sewage facilities failed because they didn’t have backup generators.

Now the city wants to change that. It’s proposing to spend $10 million to $15 million on backup generators for five sewage facilities, including the two that caused the Sept. 8 spill.

The only problem? San Diego doesn’t have the money.

The proposals add to a long list of needs that San Diego can’t now afford. It’s racked up more than $800 million in deferred maintenance. Officials have proposed more fire stations, street repairs and building maintenance over the years, but struggled to find the cash to keep up. Next year, the city estimates it will face another $32 million shortfall.

The city has considered buying sewage backups before. In 2005, while reviewing the city’s backup systems, officials chose not to purchase generators for the two sewage facilities that caused the Sept. 8 spill. They cited the high costs and relatively low risk of power outages at the time.

But the risk turned out to be greater than they expected. More than 3 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into the ocean, closing beaches from Solana Beach to the South Bay.

In addition to purchasing more generators, a new report to the City Council proposes spending another $15 million on improved communications, emergency equipment and other backup systems. Most of that would be spent on expanding emergency systems for traffic signals, which went dark during the blackout and ensnared thousands of rush-hour drivers in jams across the city.

City officials say they’ve found about $5 million in the current budget for the projects but aren’t sure where the other $25 million could come from.

The report says the Sept. 8 blackout highlighted 170 fixes needed to better prepare the city for future outages. Most involve procedural changes or minor expenses like buying first aid kits and flashlights. About one-third are already completed or underway.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the new report next Tuesday, but it is not expected to make any financial decisions. Those discussions will happen at a later date, the report says, after costs are investigated further.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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