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Occidental, home of sky-high sewage rates, eyes outlet in Graton, but some residents object

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Two Italian-style restaurants have drawn generations of diners to Occidental while serving pasta, pizza and soup — in recent years under the burden of the steepest sewage treatment rates in Sonoma County and among the highest in California.

Negri’s Original Italian Restaurant and the Union Hotel, both run by local families, pay about $120,000 a year in wastewater fees included in their property tax bills, shouldering much of the cost in a west county sanitation district that serves about 100 properties.

“You gotta sell a lot of ravioli to pay for that,” said Al Negri, former operator of his family’s eatery, established in 1943. “It would be fantastic if we got some relief.”

There could be some help coming from Graton, about 6 miles to the east with an underutilized wastewater plant that would profit from handling Occidental’s output of 18,000 gallons of sewage a day.

But there’s a catch: Graton’s plant is on a wooded 20-acre site north of the town with no road access, and finding a place to connect with the community’s sewer system has proved elusive. Neighborhood protests thwarted so many attempts to deal with Occidental’s wastewater that officials resorted two years ago to trucking it to a plant in an industrial area next to the county airport.

Residents of the 53-unit Blue Spruce Mobilehome Lodge on Green Valley Road in Sebastopol mobilized quickly after learning of the Graton Community Service District’s plan to build a wastewater receiving station 3 feet from the entrance to their park and 20 feet from the nearest mobile home, occupied by a 100-year-old woman and her son-in-law.

Graton’s plan calls for pumping six truckloads of untreated sewage a day into a valve on a concrete pad at the edge of a gas station at the corner of Green Valley Road and Highway 116.

A petition signed by 53 residents, some from the same family, objected to the project, and 15 people attended a Graton district board meeting last week, complaining about lack of advance notice of the project and objecting to the potential noise, traffic and odor.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10618162-181/occidental-home-of-sky-high-sewage

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Santa Rosa wastewater quandary linked to Kincade fire could get worse as rainy season ramps up

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nearly two months after the Kincade fire was fully contained in northeastern Sonoma County, Santa Rosa is struggling with an after-effect of the massive blaze: its wastewater disposal pipeline at The Geysers was disabled for six weeks, backing up the Sebastopol-area plant with about 400 million gallons of treated wastewater.

As a result, by February city water officials anticipate nearing maximum capacity at the plant’s storage ponds, forcing them to release treated effluent into the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa, a step that would put customers on the hook for an estimated $400,000 in environmental charges.

The wastewater quandary is one of the lingering repercussions of the county’s largest ever wildfire, which scorched about 77,000 acres and more than 170 homes after igniting near a faulty PG&E transmission line in late October.

A clearer picture of its impact on The Geysers geothermal field — the complex of power plants near where the fire erupted — and the city’s wastewater system, which sends most of its recycled daily output to The Geysers, emerged over the past several weeks in public records and in interviews with city water staff and representatives of PG&E and Calpine, which operates most of the power plants.

PG&E has restored power to most of the lines that went down due to the Kincade fire, but it is still weeks away from reactivating the transmission line where equipment broke shortly before the start of the wildfire, a PG&E spokeswoman said.

That same high-voltage line previously powered the city-owned pumps that deliver water about 40 miles from Santa Rosa’s Laguna Wastewater Plant to The Geysers as part of the city’s wastewater disposal system, in operation since 2003.

Without electricity from that line, Santa Rosa found itself sidelined for six weeks — without the ability to pump the 15 million gallons of wastewater it regularly sends per day on average to help sustain steam power at The Geysers, said Joe Schwall, the city’s deputy director of water reuse operations. The Laguna Road plant is one of the largest sewer operations in the North Bay, serving more than 200,000  people not just in Santa Rosa but in Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol and parts of Sonoma County.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10513689-181/santa-rosa-wastewater-quandary-linked

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Septic systems Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL): How this rule impacts us

Vesta Copestakes, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

In mid-June, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors took action to meet State mandated septic system regulations that protect water quality and public health.

“Our Local Agency Management Program balances state regulations with local septic policy,” said Board Chair David Rabbitt. “In some areas we are providing more flexibility to homeowners. For example, the new policy no longer requires septic system review for certain building improvements to existing structures.”

Community education and engagement was a central component of the regulation update process. The County hosted six community meetings, met with numerous community associations, welcomed comments in person and online, and provided materials to educate people on the process and technical details.

This has been a VERY long process with community meetings going back decades, yet STILL the problem remains complicated for homeowners from the headwaters of the Russian River, all the way throughout the watershed out to the sea. The estimate is that 18,000 homes will have to comply, so you can see this could take a while!

A central component of Sonoma County’s Local Agency Management Program is the County’s updated Onsite Waste TreatmentSystems (OWTS) Manual. This manual provides the regulations, procedural and technical details governing individual onsite wastewater treatment systems (also referred to as septic systems). The four main changes to local septic requirements relate to:

• Repairs, replacement systems, and new systems;

• Qualified consultants and OWTS designers; and

• Building permit thresholds for septic system review.

The approved changes to the OWTS Manual takes effect July 1, 2019, but it could be another five years before all systems are in place to clean up the problem that impacts water quality along the Russian River and all tributaries leading to the river.

TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load

What that means is how much human waste can the river handle before it becomes toxic for fish, wildlife and humans.

People always bring up that not only human waste ends up in the river, but what they may not know is that human waste is easily differentiated from animal waste, and it’s the human waste that poses the problem.
What’s the major contributor of human waste?

OWTS – Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems. They are not always SEPTIC systems (a tank that pretreats/decomposes water and waste before the water enters a leach system which disperses the wastewater into soil). They are also often Cesspools (a box that leaches waste into the soil without treatment).
Options to cesspools and septic systems are available…

Sewer systems – complicated and too expensive for small, rural communities).

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/septic-systems-amp-tmdl-how-this-rule-impacts-us

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Occidental has a big wastewater dilemma to resolve

Tom Gogola, THE BOHEMIAN

New rate increases for the Occidental Sanitation District underscore an old problem: the West County outpost is a small and underfunded district that has no wastewater disposal system of its own.

The Sonoma County Water Agency recently announced that it had approved routine rate increases for eight districts and zones that provide sewer service to more than 18,000 properties throughout the county. In a release, it says the increases will pay for maintenance and operations, and for $50 million in capital improvements to sewer collection and treatment centers in the affected districts.

None of the capital improvements are coming to Occidental, however, which has faced a wastewater-removal conundrum for two decades.

Among the proposed uses of the new revenue coming from consumers and businesses: The Geyserville district will get new aerators at its wastewater treatment facility; there’s proposed funding for a flood resiliency project in Penngrove; sewer-main projects are planned for Sonoma Valley and the Airport/Larkfield/Wikiup zone; and other improvements are afoot in the Russian River and South Park districts.

The districts’ rates are being increased from between 3.5 and 5 percent which, in and of itself, is neither controversial nor widely opposed by the impacted ratepayers, says SCWA principal programs specialist Barry Dugan. California’s Proposition 218 requires public notification and explanations behind proposed rate hikes such as the ones approved by the SCWA board last week. If more than 50 percent of respondents reject the new rate, it doesn’t pass. Fewer than 2 percent of 18,0000 impacted citizens wrote in to protest the new rate.

A review of the breakout of opponents doesn’t show any one district or another having outsized levels of opposition to the new rates. Indeed, as Dugan points out in an interview, there’s almost exactly the same number of opponents to this year’s increase (217) to last year’s (216).

If there’s any controversy it’s with Occidental’s chronic wastewater conundrum and what to do about it. A handful of Occidental resident disapproved of the rate increases, in a town that’s in a uniquely tough spot when it comes to wastewater removal: It’s a very small district with only 100 ratepayers that’s been underfunded for years, says Dugan, and that pays among the highest sanitation rates of any district in the state—if not the highest rate, suggests Dugan.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/occidentals-discharge/Content?oid=8829378

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Santa Rosa wastewater plant releases treated sewage following deluge

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overwhelmed by record rainfall this week, Santa Rosa’s regional wastewater treatment plant has released about 22 million gallons of treated sewage into two creeks and the Laguna de Santa Rosa since Wednesday, and the discharge will continue indefinitely with another storm on the way, officials said Friday.

All three waterways drain into the Russian River.

It was further evidence that the deluge, which swamped Russian River communities and displaced thousands of residents this week, had far-reaching impact.

The releases began Wednesday, a day after Santa Rosa received 5.66 inches of rain, a record for one-day precipitation dating back to 1902.

It took about a day for the added volume of sewage mixed with runoff to reach the plant on Llano Road, which treats wastewater from about 230,000 customers in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Cotati and Rohnert Park.

The record-breaking rain from an atmospheric river that stalled over Sonoma County “put a total strain on the system,” said Emma Walton, interim director of Santa Rosa Water.

Santa Rosa’s was at least the second municipal treatment plant overwhelmed or knocked out by this week’s storm. Healdsburg earlier this week declared an emergency stemming from problems at its own flooded facility.

Rainwater seeping into Santa Rosa’s far-flung sewage collection system boosted the flow arriving at the plant to as much as 105 million gallons a day this week, the largest flow ever recorded.

Normal wintertime inflow is 19 million gallons per day, city spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9339767-181/santa-rosa-wastewater-plant-releases

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Sonoma Valley wastewater spill totals 2 million gallons

Guy Kovner, PRESS DEMOCRAT

A faulty valve caused the accidental release of about 2 million gallons of untreated wastewater into a slough in Sonoma Valley, a county water official said Saturday.

The valve on a pipeline in the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District failed to fully close and was leaking wastewater for about 24 hours into Schell Slough, said Ann DuBay, a Sonoma Water spokeswoman. The flow was stopped at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, she said.

State and regional authorities were notified, and specialists sent to the spill site did not notice any dead or distressed fish or other species, DuBay said.

The valve is part of a system that collects wastewater from the equivalent of about 17,000 Sonoma Valley homes. The wastewater is treated at a plant on Eighth Street East, near the city of Sonoma.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9166172-181/sonoma-valley-wastewater-spill-totals?sba=AAS

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Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The plan will be informally introduced at a town hall meeting held by west county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins in April or early May, officials said.

Guerneville is out and Graton is now in as a potential destination for Occidental’s wastewater.
What may sound like west county musical chairs is actually the latest chapter in a 20-year effort to find an alternative for Occidental’s wastewater treatment plant, which has been under state orders since 1997 to quit discharging treated effluent into Dutch Bill Creek, a Russian River tributary and coho salmon spawning stream.
A plan to send five to 15 truckloads of untreated wastewater a day up Bohemian Highway to Guerneville was scrapped in response to protests from Guerneville residents, and officials are now considering delivery to Graton, where the local community services district has issued what amounts to an invitation.
“We’re taking a look at what might be a better option,” said Ann DuBay of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which operates the Occidental and Guerneville treatment systems and six others in the county.
Engineers are working out the details of the Occidental-to-Graton transfer between two small, rural communities, with a recommendation expected to go to the Board of Supervisors in the fall, said Cordel Stillman, the Water Agency’s deputy chief engineer.
Read more at: Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater | The Press Democrat

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River residents castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Public comment on the project’s environmental document, called the Initial Study and Negative Declaration, will be accepted through this Friday, Feb. 24, said Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay. After the deadline, water agency staffers will look at the comments and determine whether the environmental review has been adequate or needs more work. “It could take a few months” before the environmental review is complete, said DuBay.

A full house of concerned river residents admonished the Sonoma County Water Agency last week over plans to truck the town of Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal.Her neighborhood is “prepared to do anything necessary to stop this absurd idea,” said Guerneville resident Susan Packer, who owns vacation rental property adjacent to the transfer site.
With Occidental’s sewage set to be trucked daily to a pumping station on Riverside Drive, where ongoing problems include odors and recent collection system overflows during Russian River flooding, “you certainly can’t handle any increase,” in sewage coming into the pump station, said Packer.Neighbors organized as the West Guernewood Action Group agree the transfer project is “incompatible and ill-considered” and are talking to an attorney, Noreen Evans, to represent them in opposition to the project, said Packer.
The united crowd of more than 100 people packed into the Monte Rio Community Center last week had little good to say about the project that would help the town of Occidental meet a state-imposed deadline to bring its sewage disposal methods up to code and avoid fines that could hit $10,000 per day. Occidental’s compliance deadline is Jan 1., 2018, said Sonoma County Water Agency Deputy Chief Engineer Cordel Stillman.
“We know there are some issues” with trucking the town’s sewage to Guernewood Park, where it would then be piped under the Russian River to the Russian River Sanitation District’s sewage treatment plant on Neeley Road, said Stillman at last week’s public hearing hosted by the water agency. The trucking project was hammered out during talks in Occidental last year when Occidental residents rejected a water recycling plan there because of the prohibitive cost.
Trucking the sewage to Guerneville was seen as a stopgap measure that would give Occidental ”breathing room” until a more permanent solution is found, said Stillman.
The meeting in the Monte Rio Community Center was the first real public forum for river residents to weigh in on the transfer plan that was hatched last year as a way to solve Occidental’s inability to find an affordable sewage disposal plan so that the town’s wastewater does not pollute Dutch Bill Creek.
Read more at: River rats castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking | News | sonomawest.com

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Heavy rains cause Sonoma Valley wastewater overflows

Sonoma County Water Agency, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Heavy rainfall from a large atmospheric river resulted in several wastewater overflows within the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District (District). Nearly 2 inches of rain was measured during a 24-hour period ending Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Sonoma Valley wastewater treatment plant. Other areas of the valley reported 3 inches of rain overnight.
Wastewater maintenance and work crews, including biologists, responded to nine separate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) starting at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. Sanitation District staff are working to minimize the flows as much as possible, evaluate any impacts to public and environmental health, and will continue to monitor the collection systems.  The State Office of Emergency Services and California Department of Fish & Wildlife were notified.
The majority of the SSOs occurred in the Boyes Hot Springs and Fetters Hot Springs areas, with two overflows in Eldridge. Several of the overflows resulted in wastewater flowing into Sonoma Creek. One reported SSO at the Sonoma Charter School and Flowery Elementary School campus was determined to be a private overflow resulting from a failure of the collection system on school district property. Total volume of the overflows will be calculated at the end of the storm event.
During heavy rain events the District’s wastewater collection system can become overloaded due to inflow and infiltration of rainwater and groundwater into sewer mains. The District is currently implementing a multi-year sewer main replacement project. Another contributing factor to SSOs, which is being addressed by the District, is leaky private sewer laterals and illegal connections of roof downspouts, yard drains, sump pumps and other non-sewer discharges into the sewer system that can greatly increase the amount of wastewater entering the system during storms. The SVSCD Board recently approved an ordinance that will require older laterals to be inspected and repaired, if necessary.
Read more at: Heavy Rains Cause Sonoma Valley Wastewater Overflows

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Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES
A county plan to truck Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal appears to be stopped up for now owing to neighborhood opposition and possible legal issues.
Guernewood Park neighbors near the site where sewage would be unloaded at a Russian River Sanitation District pump station met with new Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins last week to vent their concerns about neighborhood truck traffic, potential odors and other compatibility issues if the sewage plan goes forward.
A sympathetic Hopkins told neighbors there may also be a legal problem if proposed pump station improvements, including a new paved driveway under the redwoods at the site, constitute an expansion of the sewer system onto vacant residential property next door.
“I don’t see how we can say that’s not an expansion,” said Hopkins, regarding a proposed new turnaround that sewage trucks would need on the property next to the lift station located between Highway 116 and Riverside Dr.
Sonoma County acquired the neighboring property in the 1980s as part of a legal settlement with the owner; a condition of the sale included an agreement that the county would not expand sewage system operations onto the neighboring property, said Hopkins. The previous owner had a house on the property that was in the path of a prevailing breeze carrying the lift station’s smell. The county demolished the house.
The deed restriction only surfaced last week after neighbors began asking questions about the Occidental sewage transfer plan that seemed to have been formulated with numerous discussions among Occidental Sanitation District residents but little or no dialogue with Guerneville residents whose properties would be impacted by the sewage transfer process involving from five to 15 daily truck deliveries of raw sewage arriving at the Riverside Drive lift station.
A Sonoma County Water Agency environmental review of the plan last year concluded it would have “no significant impact” on the Riverside Drive environment, but neighbors last week said they were never told about the project and are prepared to challenge the environmental finding in court.
Read more at: Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities – Sonoma West Times and News: News