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City diverting wastewater to avoid spill

Edwards family says city's action is violation
By: Gloria Beverage, Colfax Record Editor
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The city of Colfax has requested permission to temporarily divert wastewater from storage pond 3 to its partially retired sewer plant. City Manager Bruce Kranz made the emergency request to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board on March 16. At that time, Pond 3, the last in a series of storage tanks at the wastewater treatment plant, contained 61 million gallons of wastewater. Based on the anticipated snowstorm, Kranz said, the city wanted to take a pro-active approach in preventing a spill down Smuther’s Ravine by diverting the excess water. “We came within one-inch of spilling,” he said. “According to our permit we can’t come within two feet of the top. That’s the reason we asked for the emergency authorization.” In responding to the city’s request, Wendy Wyels, supervisor of Compliance and Enforcement Section, California Regional Water Quality Control Board, acknowledged the emergency situation and urged the city to take steps to mitigate water quality impacts from a spill. “Board staff were informed that 1.9 million gallons per day of wastewater is entering the treatment plant during storm events,” said Wyels. According to the city, the treatment plant only has the capacity for treating 0.5 million gallons of wastewater per day. Any overflow, including rainfall, runoff from the surrounding hillsides and groundwater, ends up in Pond 3. “We understand that due to the volume of wastewater entering the plant and the volume of wastewater in Pond 3, the (city) believes it has no other option available at this point than to spill,” Wyles wrote on March 18. Allen Edwards, whose property is downstream of the plant, believes the city’s action resulted in the discharge of only partially treated wastewater. “The city is pumping from the sewer plant’s main storage reservoir and through the previously retired interim plant, where sewage is only minimally treated,” Edwards said in a prepared statement. “This action has been an attempt on the part of the city to avoid a direct spill from the now full reservoir.” Edwards also claims the partially treated release is a violation of the city’s discharge permit for the plant and recent Federal court orders. “In addition, the city notified the Regional Water Quality Control Board that it wants to continue releasing partially treated sewage into the creek, even after the risk of spill is over, in order to dewater the reservoir prior to lining it,” Edwards said. “This also violates the sewer plant permit and the court order, which require that any water coming from the reservoir be treated to tertiary treatment standards in the new plant.” Water released from the treatment plan flows directly through Smuther’s Ravine, which borders the farm owned by Allen and Nancy Edwards and then flows into the American River. In 2007, after nearly a decade of attempting to stop the city from polluting their land, Allen and Nancy Edwards, along with Environmental Law Foundation, sued the city. The 2008 settlement agreement included requirements on upgrades to the city’s sewage system. “With that agreement, we believed we would finally be safe from the pollution and could start growing our vegetable crops again,” said Edwards. “But then they immediately started violating it. We then spent 18 months, including a lengthy and expensive contempt proceeding, to get the city’s compliance.” Kranz believes the city is making a good faith effort to prevent spills. “We have spent $25,000 in the last three weeks having our guys work 24 hours a day watching the plant,” he said. “And we’re putting tens of thousands of dollars into the temporary system. We got permission from the state board to discharge.” Wastewater treatment plants throughout the region experienced similar problems to Colfax last month, Wyles said. “There are a lot of facilities in the region that couldn’t deal with the rainfall this year,” she said. “Pond 3 had too much water and (the city) needed to spill. They were trying to treat it somewhat. It’s still a violation, but it’s not a problem.” The board is requiring the city to submit weekly updates that include what steps are being taken to mitigate water quality impacts.