Clogged drain results in 14,000-spill at sewer plant

By: Gloria Beverage, Colfax Record Editor
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A clogged drain at Colfax’s wastewater treatment plant recently resulted in more than 14,000 gallons of water seeping into the ground over a period of days. In a report to the California Water Quality Control Board, Community Services director Gabe Armstrong estimated nearly 14,310 gallons of water had spilled between Feb. 25 and March 7. It appears that leaves and debris had accumulated in a drain leading to Pond 3, causing seepage of about one gallon per minute, explained Colfax City Manager Bruce Kranz. “At present, I cannot tell whether it was human error or just one of those things that unfortunately happen from time to time," Kranz said. Allen Edwards, whose property is downstream from the plant, believes the spill had been happening for 10 days. “It wasn’t a high volume,” he said. “I figure the drains got clogged during the snowstorm. They just hadn’t done the maintenance.” After years of unsuccessful efforts to get the city to voluntarily make repairs to the outdated plant, Allen and Nancy Edwards partnered with the Oakland-based Environmental Law Foundation in 2007 to demand the city stop discharging polluted water into Smuther’s Ravine, the creek that flows through the Edwards property and into the North Fork of the American River. A settlement agreement was reached in 2008; however, contempt charges were filed in 2010 charging the city had violated terms of the agreement. Last week’s seepage was not raw sewage, Kranz pointed out. However, the amount of runoff from snow and rainfall over the past few weeks has filled Pond 3 nearly to capacity. “The seepage from the land is just pouring into the facility,” he said. “We’re spending $250 a day treating clean water. If it touches Pond 3, it has to be treated.” Last week the council agreed to spend $15,000 to repair a ditch that feeds runoff into Pond 3, another factor contributing to the overflow. “The city is trying its best to prevent future spills, but many of its resources have been diverted to paying legal fees and costs to the Edwards and the city’s own attorneys,” he concluded. “Unfortunately, the city could avoid most of these if only we could get some breathing room.”