[env-trinity] Trinity Journal: Sewage situation a big mess

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Dec 3 08:31:48 PST 2014


Sewage situation a big mess
By AMY GITTELSOHN The Trinity Journal | Posted: Wednesday, December 3, 2014 6:15 am
Lewiston’s largest provider of sewer services has been put on notice of numerous violations by state water agencies.
Failure to come into compliance could result in large fines or closure of the facility, which is privately run by the Lewiston Park Mutual Water Company.
The company provides water and sewer services to the Lewiston subdivision with 167 connections, five businesses, elementary school, church, veterinary office and an apartment complex. In an Oct. 1 inspection, staff from the State Water Resources Control Board found that the sewer facilities are in bad shape.
The violations put the facility out of compliance with its waste discharge permit from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“This is definitely one of the worst ones we’ve seen,” said Matthew Buffleben, chief of the State Water Resources Control Board’s special investigations unit.
The state inspectors cited problems with the facility ranging from inoperative gate valves and effluent meters, piping with unknown flow directions, no documentation of lining for the sludge drying ponds and lack of procedures for maintaining the facility.
The notice lists 116 monitoring violations from January 2010 to August 2014, including missing, late and incomplete reports, coliform bacteria well over maximum limits in the treated effluent discharged to a subsurface leach field, and missing statements of action to bring the discharge into full compliance.
The three-member board of directors of the Lewiston Park Mutual Water Company is generally in agreement that things are in a mess. The facilities were not made to handle this many connections or last this long, board members say.
The deficiencies recorded by state inspectors go back to 2010. Records prior to 2010 were not readily available, Buffleben said.
“Previous boards can be blamed but really it is the community who failed, including myself, as we did not pay attention to this very important infrastructure,” said Connor Nixon, who was appointed to the company’s board six months ago. The other directors are the board president, Chuck Gaither, appointed in March 2013, and Les Duntsch, appointed in August 2013.
After the death of the longtime plant manager, since the end of 2013 Chris Erikson has volunteered as part-time Grade 1 chief plant operator and Wayne Carlson was hired full time as Grade 1 operator-in-training.
“I think the lack of maintenance and care of the treatment plant has led to really the condition it is in today,” said Buffleben, from the state board. “There are just so many aspects to it.”
“At this point of the investigation, I believe that it is unlikely that waste from the treatment plant is contaminating water supplies,” he said.
However, he said there is the potential as the plant’s discharge could reach the Trinity River which is a source of drinking water for some. Sludge drying beds can contaminate ground water as well, and “there’s a concern they’re not properly lined,” he said.
Nixon noted that there was no finding in the state inspection that groundwater or the river are being contaminated. The effluent is carried across the Trinity River by a pipe which inspectors found does not leak and discharged well away from the river, he said.
The underground discharge is approximately 60 to 100 feet from the Trinity River, according to a geologist from the regional water board.
The facilities have been inspected by the regional water board over the years and as recently as October 2013 and April 2014. The problems aren’t recent “by any means,” Buffleben said. But “this is really the first time I think we’ve taken the time to really list the violations and properly document them,” he said.
“The state had the responsibility to enforce these citations. They didn’t do it,” Nixon said. “They say, ‘You thumbed your nose. We let you go.’”
This investigation came about as a result of a complaint regarding certification of the plant operator, Buffleben said.
Because the sewer plant was reclassified this year from Grade 1 to Grade 2, an operator with Grade 2 certifications is required by the state by March 2015. The company is working on finding a replacement for Erikson with the proper certifications and will have that in place well before the deadline, said Jamie Day, office manager of the company.
Board members noted that for years the plant was operated by a manager with no wastewater certification.
The state board has given the water company until Dec. 19 to respond as to how and when it will address the list of deficiencies. The company has been notified that failure to correct the problems will result in formal enforcement action which can range from hefty state and federal civil fines — up to $15,000 a day —  to a cease and desist order.
“We could potentially revoke the permit for the facility itself,” Buffleben said.
The company is also instructed to address whether it intends to form a public entity with the legal authority to perform public works activities, levy taxes and represent property owners. The regional water board has stated its intent that “such a public entity be named as the discharger as soon as possible.”
“This is serious,” Nixon said, adding that a cease and desist order “would close down our sewer system and be catastrophic to our community.”
And with about $32,000 in the bank, large fines would wipe out the district in days, he said.
With problems also at its water treatment facilities, board members say new systems are needed to replace those built in the late 1950s for the Trinity and Lewiston dam workers. The facilities were not meant to last this long or serve as many connections as they have, Nixon said, and there have been no new connections in about 10 years.
“The system is 60 years old,” Director Gaither said, adding that when new piping is needed it must be specially made to fit the old parts, and every time one area is fixed another breaks.
Nixon said the way out of this hole is with some grants such as the one the Lewiston Community Services District was able to obtain to replace another aging water system in the community that LCSD took over. Grants like that are not available to the Lewiston Park Mutual Water Company because it was set up as a for-profit, although it certainly doesn’t make money, Nixon said.
Merging with LCSD is the ultimate goal, but the directors of LCSD don’t want to take on the company’s facilities in their current state, Nixon said.
With the guidance of an attorney the company hired, Nixon plans to propose a vote of the shareholders (those owning property in the original subdivision boundaries) seeking new bylaws to change to nonprofit status and include all property owners connected to the system as voting members. The proposed bylaws will be made available to the community, he said.
With nonprofit status, he said, grants can be obtained to upgrade the water system. From there, he said, if members and the LCSD board agree they could merge with LCSD so that sewer grants would be available.
“It’s the only way this community can go,” Nixon said. “We don’t have the money.”
From the LCSD, board president Mel Deardorff said speaking as one board member at this point the Lewiston Park Mutual Water Company systems have far too many problems for LCSD to take it on.
“It’s not out of the question, but there are bridges that need to be crossed before that happens,” he said. Funding to fix the problems including relocation of a new sewer plant away from the river would have to be identified and assured in advance, he said. “You’re talking millions.”
The problem does need to be solved, he said.
“I drink the water out of the river and I’m downstream from where their plant is,” Deardorff said, adding that although he treats his drinking water, “I don’t know if I can treat it enough for that.”
Before the LCSD took over the smaller water and sewer systems formerly run by another entity, the Lewiston Valley Water Company, funding to replace that aging water system was assured, Deardorff noted.
The LCSD has submitted a proposal to the state for a planning grant seeking a solution to the wastewater problems covering the area served by the LCSD and the Lewiston Park Mutual Water Company.
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