County faces $303,000 water treatment fine by state
Senior Staff Writer
Nevada County is facing $303,000 in proposed fines from alleged violations at the Lake Wildwood sewage treatment plant, and the state won’t let officials apply the fines to any plant upgrades.
The penalty illustrates the mounting problem of treating wastewater in Nevada County and other rural counties amid tightened regulations.
The Cascade Shores sewage treatment plant has been fined thousands of dollars for violating clean water standards since regulations were stiffened by the federal and state governments eight years ago.
But the state Water Quality Control Board allowed the county to take the $411,000 it was fined for Cascade Shores violations and apply it toward the $4 million upgrade the plant needs to meet the standards.
Unlike Cascade Shores, “Lake Wildwood is not a small community with financial hardships, so the fine money can’t be used toward a compliance project,” said Wendy Wyels, an environmental program manager for the state water board.
“These are mandatory penalties and we really have no discretion on this one,” Wyels said. “Lake Wildwood doesn’t meet the financial hardship criteria.”
Cascade Shores residents’ annual average salaries of about $35,000 per home is just under the limit for fine relief. Lake Wildwood is more than $55,000 per home, according to county Wastewater Operations Manager Gordon Plantenga.
Though the county knew it was facing fines, the Lake Wildwood plan received a major upgrade to meet the newest clean water laws.
“It’s frustrating to spend $15 million on a plant and then get fined for something that happened before,” Plantenga said. “It’s fine money we have to pay, it’s not productive.”
The fines are for 101 effluent violations at the plant from 2000 through 2007 when the plant was releasing illegal levels of total coliform organisms, suspended solids, pH, chlorine residual and had turbidity problems.
The original fine was about $357,000, Plantenga said, but negotiations with the state water board whittled it to $303,000. Plantenga said he might be able to cut the fine in half if he can prepare a supplemental environmental project for the Lake Wildwood plan.
The water board will consider the issue at the Sept. 11 or Sept. 12 board meeting in Rancho Cordova.
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4237.
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