[News brief published June 27] The Community Services District board of directors held its second meeting Wednesday on a plan to deal with odors at the wastewater treatment plant in time to meet the deadline later in the day. It had been imposed only five days before by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The odors on the South were originally believed to be caused by a buildup of sludge, and the notice of violation from the regional board emphasized sludge removal for compliance. That changed when the CSD brought in experts who revised the sludge estimate downward. New odor control measures include aggressive aeration to maintain high dissolved oxygen levels and the introduction of micro-organisms to Pond 1.
Brad Sample gives the CSD board copies of information he supplied to the county.
Raw sewage is pumped to Pond 1, where the biological process that breaks it down begins.
The CSD also proposed a public outreach plan with weekly updates and a procedure for reporting odors. The CSD response to the notice of violation is here.
Directors said the board will move forward with plans for an operations audit at the July board meeting.
The audience of about 18 included Rancho Murieta Development Concerned Citizens Committee members, mothers with young children and other residents. A group of children played outside during the meeting.
"We just want to make sure of what's going on," said Liz Swan, one of the self-described "Murieta moms" who attended and asked questions. "We just want to make sure there's a constant flow of information."
In addition to presiding over the meeting, President Wayne Kuntz acted as host, inviting parents to bring their children inside, providing directions to the restrooms, and pointing out sodas on a table beside the U-shaped desk area where the directors and staff sat with their laptop computers.
Comments from the audience occupied most of the first hour and continued throughout the 21/2 hour meeting, although the tone of the remarks changed once CSD staff had an opportunity to provide an update and present the action plan for the odors.
At the outset, speakers challenged Director Dick Taylor about remarks he made at Monday's meeting and urged him to apologize to Rancho Murieta Development Concerned Citizens Committee members Janis Eckard and Brad Sample.
At Monday's meeting, Taylor had reacted to comments made by RMDCCC member Ted Hart that the CSD was warned about problems two years ago. Taylor replied, "… I do find it extremely difficult to deal with such things as Brad Sample and Candy Chand and Janis Eckard who, for some reason, made her statement (today) and then for some reason or another, rather than participating, has left. But the fact that the messages that get conveyed by those people … for some reason or another appear to suggest that the staff and the board of this district are trying awfully hard not to do their job, and I resent it. It's incorrect and they are intentional misstatements."
Wednesday, Taylor attempted to offer qualified apologies that didn't sit well with the crowd. Later in the meeting, he apologized to Eckard, who seemed on the verge of tears when she came to the podium to announce she had to leave before the meeting ended.
The crowd showed their sympathy with the RMDCCC members with statements of support and applause. One woman in the audience loudly admonished a director to sit down and listen when he got up to pour a cup of coffee while Candy Chand was speaking.
Chand, who was not at Monday's meeting, defended Sample and Eckard and criticized the previous CSD board, saying it "pushed for more houses" and ignored Sample's warnings about a capacity problem at the wastewater treatment plant. Chand singled out new board member Bobbi Belton as "a woman of integrity."
Sample was the first to speak at Wednesday's meeting. "I was unable to make the previous emergency meeting. … I understand there was quite a discussion about my absence," he said when he came to the podium.
Sample gave copies of material he supplied to the county and posted on RanchoMurieta.com in 2004 to the directors, saying the document showed a "pattern of excessive violations."
Many of the violations resulted from groundwater monitoring that began in 2001 and provided inclusive data about groundwater contamination.
Additional testing is now taking place under the cease and desist order to determine whether the wastewater treatment plant ponds are causing groundwater degradation.
The issue surfaced in the wastewater treatment plant inspection conducted June 19. The report included in the notice of violation characterizes a "wetlands" area west of the facility as "unusually wet," which could indicate seepage from the ponds.
"That's a pretty big statement," Director Bob Kjome said Monday.
Paul Siebensohn, acting director of field operations, said he had been on the tour with the regional board staff. He identified the area as "an old backfill area" with a dug-out area that holds storm runoff. "There was just some standing water there. (The inspector) just wanted us to address it and make sure it wasn't seepage."
Siebensohn added that one of the monitoring wells is nearby and "if there is seepage, the groundwater monitoring well should indicate that."
Crouse pointed out the area on an aerial photo on the wall and said it's an open reservoir about an acre in size. "There's no outlet … The engineers designed and built it for some reason that we haven't used yet."
Wednesday, in his update on the odor plan, Crouse said he had been working with Dr. Richard Stowell of Eco:Logic Engineering and had the approval of regional board staff to rely on Stowell's expertise in developing the plan of action for the odors.
"Dr. Stowell's opinion is that the cause of the odors is the low level of dissolved oxygen in Pond 1, when compared to the incoming organic load," Crouse wrote in the CSD's response to the regional board. "While the district initially believed that the amount and level of the sludge was the cause of the nuisance odors .... the district has consulted with other experts in the area of wastewater treatment plant operations who share Dr. Stowell's opinion that the sludge level is not the source of the problem."
Instead of an emergency sludge removal process at an estimated cost of $700,000 to over $2 million, the odor problem is being addressed with the use of aerators, the addition of microbes to the pond and other measures, with costs coming out of the operating budget.
"We believe that we turned the corner on odor control," Crouse said. "We've been maintaining dissolved oxygen levels in the ponds that are appropriate to biodegrade the incoming influent. … We think at least right now we're in the process of getting Pond 1 stabilized and getting it back to where it should be from an operational standpoint."
Crouse said four aerators are operating in Pond 1 to keep dissolved oxygen levels at higher levels, and septic tank cleaning firms are being brought in to remove floating debris and accumulations of sludge from the edges of the ponds.
John Sullivan, who represents the Murieta West development project, pushed the board to acquire its own truck for sludge collection and Ted Hart, one of the RMDCCC leaders, thrust at board members a paper with information he and Sullivan found on the Internet about a used truck.
Siebensohn said the solar aerators the district acquired in an effort to save energy were not as efficient as the mechanical aerators for the treatment requirements of Pond 1, and they tend to "rag up" with debris, resulting in down time for cleaning.
When they were installed in 2002, the district estimated the solar equipment was saving $2,000 to $3,000 in monthly electric costs.
In addition to using the non-solar aerators in Pond 1, the district is looking into using a floating brush aerator. The district's plan of action calls for field testing a demonstration unit within the next 30 to 60 days. The district would install at least one brush aerator at an estimated cost of $20,000 if the test is successful.
Other odor measures would add trees and fencing as barriers to smells.
One of the big ticket items in the plan is a $300,000 structure for the pond that has a screen, washer and compactor to "increase the efficiency and reliability of the existing aerators." This is also a recommendation in the report currently being developed for the CSD to meet the requirements of the cease and desist order issued by the regional board last year. The CSD is responsible for two of the four issues in the order – providing adequate wastewater storage and disposal through build-out, and possible degradation of groundwater by the wastewater treatment plant ponds.
The five-page odor plan proposes gradual reduction of sludge through the biological process that's now being used to reduce the odors. The addition of bacteria and enzymes for this purpose is estimated to cost $100,000 to $150,000.
As the meeting drew to a close, Sample came to the podium again and reviewed the measures staff had proposed for the action plan. He pronounced them "good ideas." Chand also returned to the podium and thanked the board, saying "the reception from the board and the general manager was refreshing and open."