Counterpoint: Problems at plant going on for years

By: Allen Edwards, Colfax resident
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Councilwoman Suzanne Roberts has stated that I made unfounded claims against the city’s sewer treatment plant. Unfortunately, Ms Roberts is misinformed. Some history would be helpful: the city sewage treatment plant started operation in 1979 as a land disposal system – no discharge or leakage allowed. The plant immediately violated its permit by leaking. In response, the Regional Water Board ordered Colfax to fix the leaking reservoir (Pond 3). But the city did not. For decades the plant continued to violate its permits, leaking undisinfected sewage and spilling hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted water into the creek that flows through my family’s farm. In 2001, the Regional Water Board ordered the city to either dispose of its sewage on-site or upgrade the plant. It again ordered the city to stop the leakage. The board set a deadline of mid-2006. But when the deadline came, the city had not even designed the fixes. After years of trying unsuccessfully to get the city to comply with the law, my family and I sued. In fall 2008, the city agreed, in what became a court order, to complete the new plant and either stop using Pond 3 or line it. The new plant finally started operating in January 2009. But almost immediately the city violated other requirements of the agreement – eventually thousands of times. Even now the city has not lined Pond 3, and continues to use it. Ms Roberts implies that the city completed the treatment plant upgrade on time. But the city delayed starting the project and so was 2½ years late in its completion. Ms Roberts states the plant has not spilled since 2002, but city’s own reporting documents show numerous spills since then, including 16.9 million gallons in 2006 and one as recently as last fall. And pond 3 continues to leak. As to the feminine hygiene applicators: until a few years ago, winter inflows would often bypass treatment and flow directly from the receiving pond into Pond 3. The banks of Pond 3 were littered with applicators. When the pond spilled, some of those applicators went into the creek that flows through our land and past our house. Over the years we have found dozens on our land. Ms Roberts incorrectly states that I claimed the polluted water from the plant killed trees along the creek on my land. Our claim clearly states the trees were killed, not by pollution, but rather because the city stopped discharge from the plant for much of the summer of 2009. Since the treatment plant is the only source of water in the creek during the summer, this resulted in drying up the creek. Most of those trees were established after the sewer plant was built because of water from the plant. Two independent experts concluded that the cutoff of water killed many trees, and damaged many others. Where are things now? Because of the city’s unwillingness to comply with the previous order, we took them back to court. An 18-month long process recently culminated in the Federal Judge issuing a new order. This order has explicit steps the city must take, including finally lining Pond 3. With the court’s close supervision, we expect the city to operate the treatment plant within the law, and respect the rights of people downstream. And we hope this order is the start of a new relationship, which is based on cooperation rather than conflict, and facts rather than misinformation. — Allen Edwards & his family live and farm immediately downstream from the City sewer plant.