Sanitation plant failures threaten groundwater

November 26, 2012

By KAREN VELIE

During an inspection of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation plant earlier this year, federal Environmental Control Agency (EPA) inspectors discovered several self-monitoring and biosolid handling deficiencies that could result in groundwater contamination, according to a recently released compliance evaluation inspection report.

Of greatest concern to regulators is the practice at the plant of pouring biosolids, which remain after sewage treatment, from separating equipment onto the ground. The sewage residue is then transferred for storage on porous soil near the Arroyo Grande Creek Levee.

“Biosolids are stored on porous soil surfaces, and have the potential to contaminate groundwater,” the report says. “The discharger was not storing the biosolids processed by the centrifuge on the engineered drying beds, as stated in the permit.”

In response to the unsatisfactory evaluation, plant representatives told officials from the EPA and the Regional Water Quality Control Board they plan to pave the biosolid storage area, “but no timeline has been set,” according to the report.

In addition, inspectors found that employees at the plant have not been performing self-monitoring procedures in a manner required by the plant’s permit. Representatives from the plant told inspectors they were not aware of the testing requirement, “but now that they understood it,” they would start complying, the report says.

Meanwhile, management at the aging plant is under fire for three releases of improperly treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean during the past four months. Under its permit, a release of more than 200 MPN (most probable number of fecal coliform per ml) is a violation and inline for mandatory penalties. The recent releases tested from 30,000 MPN to 160,000 MPN.

The sanitation district serves approximately 38,000 customers from the cities of Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande and the community of Oceano.

 


24 Comments

  1. rogerfreberg says:

    So, you really think this is a recent phenomenon?? Think heavy metals.

    How many of you have been drinking the tap water??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. SLOChuck says:

    …If only the plant had someone whose job it was to read the permit and ensure compliance. Like a lab tech. They’re trained specifically in interpreting the regulations! I wonder why the district’s lab tech isn’t doing that.
    Oh wait.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

    • doggin says:

      Well….. allow me to explain, it will be lengthy so bear with me here. The recent EPA/ Ca Water Resources report performed jointly by the SWRCB and PG Environmental marked the Sanitation District unsatisfactory in the self monitoring category. Self monitoring is largely what a lab tech handles. The report also says verbatim, on page 15, line 11 “The primary on site facility representative recognizes that the facility could use a dedicated laboratory technician, and stated that due to money issues the discharger is NOT able to bring on a full time laboratory technician. The discharger laid off the previous laboratory technician in September of 2010 due to funding cuts”.
      Cuts due to what Wallace said was no new sewer hook up fees in the service area because of no new home construction. I cant somehow see how things have got any better since 2010, but on page 20 of the 10/17/2012 Board pack a generous 7% pay increase is called for. How could this be, I thought they were broke?
      So now on to the economics part. The lab tech was canned for exposing internal corruption under Wallace’s reign. The position paid around $45K annually for what was once a grade IV lab analyst, a bargain at twice the cost, but she was canned non the less. Then naturally Wallace appointed another of his own to take over with compliance concerns previously handled by the lab tech, imagine that. That would be Ms. Heather Billings, a Wallace employee who’s credentials are a chemical engineer. In a premeditated move Wallace offed the $45K lab tech position and now billed tax payers $120 per hour for Billings as a replacement.
      Lets not forget in the new Wallace dictionary the definition of the word “engineer is, “smarter than the rest of you idiots” Well she wasn’t, nor is he for that matter as we’ve seen the last 25 years.
      Well damn Wallace thought ……its time to find a real “compliance officer” to keep up with these damn regulators so he hired the defunked from Cayucos CSD, Bill Callahan to take over. Low and behold now Wallace gets to bill for two of his staff, Billings and Callahan. See how simple that was? Oh…and can anybody here recall ever seeing a per Wallace employee breakdown for fees charged? Can you say no, no and no.
      So the public got spoon fed the lie of a savings of $45K annually for eliminating what is in this case was a highly educated,proficient critical staff member, yet keeping a janitor that cost as much. This move then allowed charging the public ten times as much for two Wallace employees who hold no relevant credentials to do the job. The best part, the public will NEVER see just how much this really costs.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

      • aft50s says:

        Just FYI, Hook up fees are placed into a seperate account that can only be used for plant expansion projects. These funds cannot be used for day-to-day expenses such as salarys, chemicals, or even for routine mantenance – ONLY FOR PLANT EXPANSION.

        Therefore if the District used that excuse for the termination of an employee, it is not true-read the account descriptions in the District’s budget which details what each revenue source can be used for what purpose.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

        • doggin says:

          Good point if correct. During the 16 hours of the hearing there was deep concern expressed by the State investigators as Wallace was utilizing the Districts “reserve fund” to make payroll. This also is suspect of cooking the books and may be one of the items under investigation by the Attorney Generals office.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

          • MaryMalone says:

            Wait a minute–the AG’s office is investigating? Do you happen to have a case number?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. r0y says:

    NEWSFLASH: We’ve been leaving biosolids on the ground for millennia!

    The amazing thing about soil is it’s ability to filter and recycle. It’s been doing it since the first dump was ever taken. Welcome to the cycle of life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 16

    • r0y says:

      Can’t these Biosolids be recycled into fertilizer or some other use?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

      • MaryMalone says:

        Yes, biosolids can be used as fertilizers. However, there are many risks associated with that process, and not all of those risks are yet known.

        Biosolids content varies from place to place, and from time to time. All the heavy metals, etc. in sewage and wastewater gets concentrated in biosolids. For instance, the wastewater inflow, once it is processed at the SSLOCSD, produces biosolids that are only about 25% the amount of the original amount of wastewater/sewage.

        There is no labeling on biosolids, and on the products in which they get used. The information on the contents of biosolids posted on websites for areas that use biosolids do not (in my experience) provide you the source for the testing, nor the actual testing itself. Therefore, those publishing the results have a conflict of interest because they want to gain approval of the practice of using biosolids, and–for the info shown on their websites–they are the only source of the information.

        Heavy metals found in biosolids include mercury, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, cadmium and selenium, as well as others.

        There are other contaminates in biosolids, including chlorinated organic pollutants, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, surfacants (used in many personal-care products), chemicals from some flame retardants, synthetic musks from fragrances, and phthlates (plasticizers).

        Radiation is also found in biosolids.

        Pharmaceuticals found in biosolids include synthetic hormones and compounds that work on hormones, blood-fat lowering medications, heart medications, asthma medications, antidepressants, medications for obsessive-compulsive disorders, cancer drugs, impotence drugs, and tranquilizers.

        In addition, there are pathogens in biosolids, including bacteria and viruses. Viruses especially are very difficult to kill.

        The contamination to the soil is increased if the plants and soil microorganisms are not efficient users of the contaminants, and if the plant material left after harvest is turned back into the soil.

        The availability of the contaminants in the soil depend on soil pH, temperature of the air and soil, available solar radiation, time of the year, etc.

        Finally, any runoff from biosolids or soil where biosolids have been used will carry, as part of the runoff, the contaminates in the biosolids. This runoff, as we know from the SSLOCSD disaster of December 2010, can go into creeks, the ocean, streets and our homes.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

        • r0y says:

          Good info, thanks, Mary!

          One would think that a simple ammonia wash or bleach bath might sanitize and sterilize much of the contaminates, allowing additional processing.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

          • MaryMalone says:

            Viruses (like hepatitis) and Cryptosporidium organisms (like the kind that causes GI problems)aren’t bothered much by chlorine.

            Cryptosporidium outbreaks can be pretty bad. Animal Planet’s program, “Monsters Inside Me,” has a cool video about an outbreak and gives some history, to: tinyurl.com/awxjtbo

            You can pick up Cryptosporidum at places like water parks, swimming pools, etc. Anyplace you are exposed to water that is not adequately treated carries the risk of having the organism in it.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • MaryMalone says:

      NEWSFLASH: Your comparison is completely invalid because there are far more differences between biosolids deposited in past “millennia” and the biosolids being deposited now. In addition, you serve no one but John Wallace and the rest of the SSLOCSD administration cabal when you attempt to minimize the latest Wallace/SSLOCSD ecological nightmare.

      WE, the citizens, will have to pay for this, you know, just like we’ve paid for the rest of Wallace’s FAILS and the failure of the SSLOCSD legal counsel and board of directors to provide the oversight for which they were paid and with which they were entrusted.

      The combined population of GB, AG and OCSD, as of 2010, was 37,694 (AG-17,252, GB-13,156, OCSD-7,286).

      In the year 1900, the population was about 800 in Arroyo Grande (about double what it was 15 years earlier), and it was the second largest town in the county. By 1920, the population was 1500. As you can see, up until this last century, there weren’t many people in Arroyo Grande, and–especially since AG was the second-largest city in the county–there weren’t probably a lot of people in the OCSD area and Grover Beach, either.

      However, that radically changed in the intervening years.

      The reason the SSLOCSD was built was because of the finding of nitrates in the groundwater.

      Until the SSLOCSD facility was built in 1966, wastewater biosolids were scattered throughout the three cities. Septic tanks were used in Grover Beach and Oceano. AG had a rudimentary treatment process which only partially treated the wastewater and then dumped it on adjacent land.

      The building of the SSLOCSD greatly changed the handling of wastewater such that it now concentrated the biosolids into a very small plot of land. According to the SSLOCSD website, the average inflow of wastewater to the facility is 2.88 millions of gallons per day, with peak wet weather flows of greater than 8 MGPD. It then is treated, leaving a biosolids “cake” of about 25% of the original inflow.

      While soil can filter and recycle, there are many variables that limit and/or enhance that process. The soil where SSLOCSD stores the biosolids is very porous. This means there are minimal cation exchanges sites (places on each soil particle) which which facilitates the “filtering” and “recycling” process.

      The fact that the biosolid/water material was first poured onto the ground just increases the amount of contaminates that have been allowed to contaminate our gorundwater.

      In addition, once again SSLOCSD has blatantly violated its permits to operate. Once again, they claim they just didn’t know.

      What will it take to get Wallace, his @ss-kissing board of directors and his legal co-conspirators prosecuted and GONE?

      SLO County and the State of California have completely FAILED in their responsibility to handle the situation at the SSLOCSD. THEY have the power and the personnel to do it. Why haven’t they?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

      • r0y says:

        The “newsflash” was meant to be tongue-in-cheek; I am not minimizing anything, just making a lame joke. I realized it did not come off that way, so I hurried in with a reply to myself.

        I accept the slap on the wrist.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

        • MaryMalone says:

          R0y, if Ted Slanders was posting here he would tell you “Self-abuse is a sin.” =)

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. doggin says:

    Another violation of decades old regulations again. “Representatives from the plant told inspectors they were not aware of the testing requirement, “but now that they understood it,” they would start complying, the report says”. Now they understand? your shitting me ( no pun intended)
    How can this continue? Where is the O&M manual (Operations and maint) that we were charged a bundle for ? Lets not forget the July 2010 Notice of Violation that cited Wallace and the District for not having an O&M manual. Wallace then helped himself to another, no going out to bid project and charged us almost $50,000 to prepare one and train staff on how to read it. Less than two years after they get nailed they tell the inspectors they didn’t know. Perhaps this is the reason we never will see the Board pack for the last “special meeting” Transparency alright
    Wallace never answered any of the questions about equipment failures,being broke yet giving more raises, etc,etc. Maybe he’ll answer this. Whats it like to prey on the hard working and elderly of 5 cities to pay for your multiple homes,lavish life style and trips to Mexico every year. Your a real piece of work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 3

    • MaryMalone says:

      SOPs–here’s another example of how Wallace, by not knowing anything about the actual administration of the WWT plant, and by his unwillingness to ask those who DID know, caused so many problems, like the horrible flooding problem in December 2010.

      The transcript from the water board hearing in September includes Appleton’s testimony. He indicates when he returned from a leave of absence, certain standard operating procedures had been changed, and no one advised him they had been changed. Wallace and the Wallace Group were responsible for the changes.

      A significant change was the settings of the emergency bypass pump discharge valve. It was supposed to be in the OPEN position. Before Appleton went out on his leave of absence, the SOP called for it to be open, and, in fact, Appleton had it CHAINED and LOCKED open. However, while he was out on leave, the SOP was changed, the chain and lock removed, and the emergency bypass pump set at the OFF position.

      The sequence for the emergency bypass pump was to have the valve open and THEN start the pump. On the day of the flooding, the sequence was (inadvertently) performed backwards because the assumption was the valve would be in the open position.

      Also, another example of Wallace being unfit to administer the plant….the emergency bypass pump itself was a lemon. Buying that particular pump was Wallace’s command. Appleton and the others at the plant worked with it, sent it back to the factory, etc. for three years. They had nothing but problems. Before Wallace purchased it, everyone who had actually worked with the pump recommended that the pump be returned to the factory because it was a lemon. However, the vendor gave Wallace a big discount, and so Wallace commanded that that lemon pump be purchased.

      Those two processes–the SOP changing debacle and Wallace’s insisting on the purchase of a lemon piece of equipment, that was supposed to perform a vital duty and had already wasted untold man-hours trying to get and keep runing, be purchased because Wallace got a big discount–are directly related to Wallace’s avarice, greed, and being unfit for the job of administering a WWT plant. Those two processes also show the kind of disasters that occur when you have someone of Wallace’s low ethics and knowledge running a crony board of directors, like the BOD at the SSLOCSD.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

      • doggin says:

        To add Wallace had the O&M manual completed. Appleton returned and reviewed the document and found numerous major errors such as the following. A typical procedure for a Biotower or Fixed Film Reactor (FFR) is to perform a “flush” as they become over run with snails and flies. This washes out the undesirable bugs and allows regrowth of the film that treats the incoming waste. The construction methods of the Districts FFR are such that if the staff followed Wallace’s $50,000 document it would have collapsed the walls of the FFR outward and rendered the entire biological process destroyed. This would have resulted in immidate spillage of all of the plants sewage and unless a magic stunt was pulled months of sewage discharges onto the lagoon and ocean with millions spent in emergency repairs. This is no joke, the document exists in which Wallace acknowledges his ignorance and yet Wallace charged the tax payers even more to make the corrections to the manuals to change this process. This is what you get when you have 20+ non certified clueless people doing the work of what should be one in house engineer, a plant super and his staff. This would also save hundreds of thousands in wasted tax dollars.
        But keep right on bitchin people, KCOY told us a rate increase is on the horizon. Until more people show up at meetings and demand tossing Wallace out of his admin and engineer positions nothing ever will change.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

        • MaryMalone says:

          As always, doggin, your knowledge is greatly appreciated.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Vallybear says:

    Wallace’s supervisory techniques are once again under scrutiny. And they show that he has none!
    kick him out and the sooner the better and get someone in there who is interested in the people that this sanitation district services instead of just lining his/her pockets with the green stuff…………..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 4

  6. dante0182 says:

    Who is extracting water from the groundwater basin that may be (or is?) contaminated? Do the farmers have wells that are used to water their crops? Do the cities have wells to supply water to their citizens? Are there private wells being used by residents?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

    • Vagabond says:

      It doesn’t matter if nobody uses the groundwater, In the state of California all waters are protected.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

    • doggin says:

      Grover and Oceano have ground water wells for potable supply and the aquifer may close enough their water supply ends contaminated. A significant concern would be that the AG creek discharges into the ocean. Do you recall all of the problems in past years with high coliform counts in the ocean where it discharges? Take a walk along the levee after a good rain event and their storage area looks like a tar pit and smells like well ….crap.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

    • MaryMalone says:

      Yes, farmers have access to the water beneath their property, and use it for irrigation.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. StatusQuoJoe says:

    Get out of the 1950′s with your handling of sewage SSLOCSD! Add water and that stuff is alive and seeping onto the groundwater. Holy cow! If placed on a concrete pad any seepage could be directed back into the treatment system.
    If the neighborhood floods again, that stuff floats right into the sea (after it goes through a forty or more houses).
    Who is managing that place? Oh yeah, someone who just fills up his bank account and doesn’t really build anything.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 36 Thumb down 4

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