Sanitation district regulatory woes escalate
November 19, 2012
The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District is facing another fine for the third release of improperly treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean in less than four months, with each release larger than its predecessor.
Sanitation plant superintendent Bob Barlogio reported to regulators that on Oct. 24 the plant violated it discharge permit. After the plant’s chlorination pump malfunctioned, district employees sent a sample of effluent being released into the ocean to a lab which reported it had a fecal coliform content of 160,000 MPN (most probable number of fecal coliform per ml). Anything over 200 MPN violates the district’s operating permit, with large overages in line for mandatory penalties.
Surfing and swimming in waters with high levels of fecal coliform increases the chance of developing illness such as hepatitis and pneumonia from bacteria entering the body through the mouth, nose, ears or cuts in the skin.
Because of a 2010 spill of 674,400 gallons of raw sewage, ratepayers in the communities of Arroyo Grande, Oceano and Grover Beach are facing increased utility bills.
At an Oct. 3 hearing, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board levied a $1.1 million fine against the sanitation district after it determining the 2010 raw sewage spill was due to careless and improper maintenance of the sanitation plant.
Within days, sanitation board attorney Jon Seitz announced he planned to appeal the ruling. Two members of the three person sanitation district board, Arroyo Grande mayor Tony Feraria and Grover Beach councilman Bill Nichols, voted in favor of filing an appeal with the State Water Quality Control Board while Oceano Community Services District Board President Matthew Guerrero voted against it.
Last Tuesday, the Oceano board discussed a request from Seitz to send a letter to the state water board supporting the sanitation district’s appeal while using talking points Seitz included in his request; the board ultimately voted against Seitz’s request.
Shortly before the Sept. 28 water board hearing, a plant sample of effluent was discovered to have a 50,000 MPN fecal coliform content, 49,500 MPN over the limit.
In the past, high fecal coliform levels at the plant have primarily been blamed on issues with chlorination equipment malfunctioning. However, in this case, the levels of chlorine residue in the sample were unusually high, which means that the effluent contained matter the chemical was unable to penetrate.
Several months before that, a sample test of effluent being pumped into the ocean had a fecal coliform count of 30,000 MPN. This discharge was not reported to regulators after plant management determined the high count was due to an error at Abalone Coast Lab in San Luis Obispo.
John Wallace is the chief administrator of the sanitation district. He is also the owner and president of the Wallace Group, a private engineering consulting firm located in San Luis Obispo, which the district pays between $50,000 and $80,000 a month for engineering, consulting and administrative work.
During last Tuesday’s Oceano board meeting, Guerrero asked his fellow board members for advice on how he should vote on an upcoming sanitation district board review of Wallace’s administration of the district and the Wallace Group’s contract. In the end, it was determined by the Oceano board that a bottom up review of Wallace should be asked for before a vote is made of whether to terminate both or one of Wallace’s contracts with the sanitation district.
If the sanitation district board members refuse Oceano’s request, Guerrero said he will vote to terminate both contracts.