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Have mercy with rural water rules

Clean water is one of those environmental issues just about everyone can agree on. And with the passage of the Clean Water Act by Congress 32 years ago, our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams have become measurably more healthy.

Locally, millions of dollars have gone to fund and construct wastewater treatment plants that meet federal and state requirements aimed at keeping our streams and creeks free of pollution. That investment was worth it.

Over the intervening years, millions more have been spent by the county and its cities to meet even stricter discharge requirements. And again, we ponied up because it was the right thing to do environmentally.



Now the state, by way of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, wants millions of dollars more in upgrades. The problem is, the effluent from our treatment plants isn’t polluting our creeks and streams.

According to an advisory committee that makes recommendations to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, the new regulations regarding “heavy metals” could cost $26 million over the next five years.




But the impacts are already being felt. The 80 or so residents of Cascade Shores who are hooked up to that community’s wastewater plant, which was upgraded to meet discharge standards in 1996, just got hit with a nearly 100-percent increase in sewer fees. Their monthly bill will now be about $150 just to run the plant for the next couple of budget years and fund the county’s effort to try and figure out how to meet the new mandates by 2006.

The question at this point – 32 years after the Clean Water Act was adopted – is if we spend tens of millions more, will we get a real environmental impact in the streams in which our treatment plants discharge? Many experts say no. But the feds and the state don’t seem to be sensitive to that possibility or, more importantly, to the cost rural counties face trying to meet the increased requirements.

We aren’t calling for the Clean Water Act to be trashed, but it is time for the U.S. EPA and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board to flush their broad water-quality objectives and consider more closely the far-reaching impacts their regulatory decisions have on rural rate-payers, public agencies and the effort to develop affordable housing.


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