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Spill ‘no threat’

A wastewater release last week from Nevada County’s sewage plant below Lake Wildwood didn’t pose a health threat, officials said Tuesday after reviewing laboratory test results of Deer Creek water samples.

Part of a pumping system failed at the plant sometime after workers went home Feb. 12, said county wastewater operations manager Gordon Plantenga.



When workers returned the next morning, they discovered that sludge was bypassing part of the treatment process and had entered an estimated 8,000 gallons of effluent, or treated wastewater released into the creek.




Sludge isn’t as dirty as raw sewage, but it’s not exactly as clean as potting soil either. Sludge is sewage that has gone through the treatment process and ultimately gets sent to a landfill.

Officials were concerned the sludge might have increased the fecal coliform in the creek above the hazard level of 500 units of coliform per milliliter of water.

But test results showed coliform levels were at 300 units downstream from the plant on the day of the spill then down to 130 levels the next day, said Zander Karim, a Nevada County Environmental Health Department specialist.

Now, “it looks like it’s back to normal,” he said.

Plantenga said, “It apparently wasn’t any problem.”

The sewage plant operators immediately notified the county’s Environmental Health Department of the release the morning they discovered it and also called downstream-property owners, who have a “phone tree” set up to notify their neighbors, Plantenga said.

“We were notified,” said John van der Veen of Friends of Deer Creek, a nonprofit environmental group.

Last week’s release, “In and of itself, it’s not a biggie,” said van der Veen. “I think what’s big is how frequently it happens.”

He also said the sludge had clouded the creek’s water, which could possibly hurt fish.

The Environmental Health Department didn’t notify the public of the spill until two days after it happened.

Karim explained he planned to issue the warning the next day, but wound up staying home sick. He said he called the department to see if someone else could issue the warning, but his co-workers didn’t because they were swamped with duties.

The wastewater plant equipment that broke is being replaced, Plantenga said. He said an alarm also is being installed that would trigger a phone call to the plant’s workers at night so they could catch a similar mishap sooner.


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