County dodges water fines
RANCHO CORDOVA – Nevada County dodged a potential $700,000 in fines Thursday in a compromise with the state water board and environmentalists.
The parties agreed to move a deadline to meet new state water regulations for the Cascade Shores Wastewater Treatment Plant to September 2007. The state had earlier asked the county to meet the new regulations by June 14, but county officials said that was impossible until the plant is rebuilt.
The plant was knocked out of commission for nine days in May of 2005 when a cliff above it slid and burst its intake pipe, sending untreated raw sewage into Gas Canyon Creek.
The county expects the new plant to be completed by September 30, 2007, and was looking at a possible $700,000 in fines for continued violations until then. But the parties agreed to merge the June regulation deadline with the 2007 construction finish date, averting the fine possibility.
In an afternoon of hallway haggling outside a California Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting, county Transportation and Sanitation Director Michael Hill-Weld, Supervisor Nate Beason and others managed to cut the deal.
“It’s good news,” Beason said outside the meeting. “The staff really did a good job for us.”
Carrie McNeil of the Deltakeeper environmentalist group and Bill Jennings of the California Sport Fishing and Protection Alliance said earlier in the day the state was treating Nevada County with kid gloves and could have been tougher. But when the compromise was announced in the water board meeting, Jennings said “we agreed,” and the deal was on.
Still on the table are $498,000 in fines for 166 water quality violations that occurred at the plant from January 2000 to March 2005, according to water board official Dave Carlson. Of those violations, 42 were deemed serious.
State documents said the violations occurred when discharges did not meet state safety levels because of faulty alarm systems, broken down equipment and the plant only being staffed 12 to 16 hours a week. One spill put chlorine into the creek for several days that was eventually 1,400 times above the safety level and called “acutely toxic (lethal) to aquatic life,” in the documents.
Carlson said state staff will recommend the county be allowed to apply the $498,000 in fines to the reconstruction of the plant and not lose the money in a punitive payout.
The board will decide later on that and if the county has to pay another $43,000 fine for the May 2005 sewage spill that dumped 178,000 gallons of effluent into the stream. State fine formulas could have levied more than $3.6 million for the spill into the creek, which is above Rollins Reservoir and part of the Bear River watershed.
State water board documents said the county could have caught the sewage at Cascade Shores manholes before it reached the broken pipe and trucked it to other plants, but failed to do so, despite official suggestions. The documents said the raw sewage caused fecal coliform levels that exceeded state levels and could have impaired the water for downstream users.
To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@the union.com or call 477-4237.
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