A 17-year accumulation of sludge in a wastewater treatment pond has been revealed as the source of smells that plague areas of the South, Community Services District General Manager Ed Crouse said at Wednesday's board meeting. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a notice of violation to the CSD regarding the odors this week.
In response to questions from board members, Crouse acknowledged "we do have an excessive build-up of sludge … because it hasn't been hauled off and I can only say … it's been talked about but it probably hasn't been done often enough."
Crouse said the frequency of removal depends on the amount of sewage, although a two- to four-year timeframe is typical.
Crouse said about a thousand pounds of fecal matter is pumped to the plant daily. The raw sewage goes to the first pond in the five-pond treatment process that breaks the waste down biologically. The pond has been identified previously as the source of the odors South residents have complained about in recent weeks.
Crouse said the district is looking into ways to address the sludge problem, which Director Bobbi Belton, a South resident, labeled "a crisis."
The board directed Crouse to prepare a letter about the odor problem that will be sent to all residents as soon as possible.
Crouse outlined several options for removing the sludge that the district is investigating and further discussion is expected at a special board meeting already scheduled for 8:30 a.m. July 6. The meeting is the final workshop on a wastewater report required by the cease and desist order issued to the CSD and the Country Club.
According to the violation notice from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, the regional board began receiving complaints June 7 about "strong, very objectionable sewage odors in the morning and evening hours, particularly after a warm day when there is some wind blowing from west to east." The notice refers to eight complaints from five different parties and lists two wastewater discharge requirements the CSD is violating by failing to keep odors within the plant and disposal areas and not keeping treatment from being "a nuisance or condition of pollution."
The notice of violation outlines measures the CSD has taken that include running recycled water through the pond, bypassing the first pond, and running the aerators only at night. The aerators add oxygen to speed up the biological process for absorbing the waste, but this process also produces gas that contributes to the odors.
According to the notice of violation, these short-term measures have not been successful and the notice requires a monitoring program and weekly status report.
The odor issue was not on Wednesday's meeting agenda until the five directors voted unanimously to add it after deciding it met conditions in the Brown Act that CSD legal counsel Steve Rudolph outlined. Rudolph said an item could be added if the matter needs immediate attention and didn't come to the board's attention until after the agenda was posted or if there is "a true emergency ... a public health, safety, welfare situation that requires your immediate attention."
Calling the odors "severe," Belton said, "I do believe it's a matter of public safety and health. ..."
Although the vote to put the item on the agenda came early in the four-hour-plus meeting, the board didn't return to the topic until later in the session. By that time, the audience for the issue had dwindled to a few.
Crouse said while the cheapest solution is to pump the sludge out of the pond to the drying beds at the plant, there may not be sufficient capacity and there is the potential for odors because the beds are out in the open.
Another possibility is to remove the sludge and extract some of the moisture from it before having it hauled away to reduce the weight, and the "fail-safe" solution is to hire a contractor to haul the sludge to the regional wastewater plant as a hazardous waste, Crouse said.
The CSD already disposes of sludge from the secondary treatment part of the wastewater operation. After new regulations went into effect requiring the sludge to be transported to a landfill within two years, the district transported an estimated 20 years' worth of sludge from the drying beds in 2002 at a cost of $72,000. Since then, an effort has been made to remove the sludge annually.
When asked Thursday how the present situation at the treatment pond was allowed to happen, Crouse said that, "for the first part of the time, it was probably thought not necessary" and later "it just wasn't anticipated and followed up on in a timely manner, on a yearly basis. ..."
Crouse said the operations plan for the plant was being examined for a maintenance item for the treatment pond "and then we're going to go back in and track our records to see whether that was ever done and, if so, what the results were."
Sticker shock for electronic- and hazardous-waste event
The community's first-ever collection event for electronic waste and household hazardous waste was conducted in April and attracted 450 participants, more than four times the number estimated by the waste collection company the CSD contracted with for the service. The CSD budgeted $15,000 for the event based on the company's estimate.
Due to the number participating and the volume of the waste dropped off, the final bill was $82,000, according to CSD Director of Administration Les Tyler.
Tyler said the bill has been negotiated down to $76,000 and he's confident there is room for further reductions, based on his research into costs. The board agreed to pay the original $15,000 sum as a sign of good faith while the negotiations continue.
Director Jerry Pasek pointed out that the bill worked out to $200 a car for participants.
The CSD has budgeted $20,000 for another event next year but is rethinking the matter. Tyler said electronic waste presents a "good opportunity" for reasonable pick-up costs and he is looking into a report that there a company that does regular collections at no cost.
Hazardous waste has fewer takers, although paint and other hazardous waste can be dropped off at county collection facilities year-round, and the CSD intends to provide that information to residents, Tyler said.
Reporter is honored
River Valley Times reporter Marcia Oxford received roses from fellow Red Hat Society members and a resolution in her honor from the CSD board at the CSD meeting Wednesday. Oxford leaves the newspaper July 6 after reporting on the community since 1999, covering CSD meetings "for two centuries," as Director Bobbi Belton said in the resolution, which evoked laughs from the standing-room-only crowd. Oxford was also honored at the Rancho Murieta Association board meeting the previous night, where RMA President Jack Cooper presented her with an RMA logo carved by RMA Maintenance Manager Rod Hart.
Complaint about Security officer, CSD procedures
Lou and Betty Ferraro appeared before the board concerning an incident in April that made Lou Ferraro feel "harassed and threatened" by a Security patrol officer.
Lou Ferraro said an officer was following him as he drove his golf cart, at first without the cart's lights on. When he stopped to ask why he was being followed, Ferraro said the officer told him he suspected Ferraro was drunk. Ferraro said he wasn't drunk and offered to take a breathalyzer test. While awaiting the arrival of the CHP, Ferraro said he told the officer he wasn't drunk and stepped toward the officer to let him smell his breath. Ferraro said the officer raised his baton and told him to back away. Ferraro wasn't detained and he continued home, apparently without dealing with the CHP.
The officer was not named at the meeting.
Betty Ferraro said getting information from the CSD about the incident was "a very frustrating process." Her written suggestions for improving the process were referred to the Communications and Technology Committee.
- The board accepted the audit of the district's finances, which gives the district high grades. The report also recommends development of a disaster recovery plan for the district.
- The board approved an annual increase in the district's parks fee to make it the same as what the Rancho Murieta Association charges developers. The fee was instituted in 1990 when it was uncertain whether the South would annex to the RMA.
- The water supply augmentation fee was increased to $4,018 per lot. The fee is charged to provide funding for additional water sources needed for the 200-year drought event at build-out.
- The date of the July board meeting was changed from the 18th to July 25 to avoid a conflict with a county Board of Supervisors hearing on development projects proposed for Murieta North.
- A workshop on conservation pricing takes place 9:30 a.m. July 25 at the CSD Building. The pricing would charge heavy water users more in an effort to reduce water usage.