Sewage plant continues to violate environmental requirements

August 9, 2011


South San Luis Obispo County’s aging sewer plant continues to release inadequately treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean, according to the plant’s records.

Specifically, in July, the plant was in violation of biological oxygen demand (BOD) standards it is required to meet. BOD has traditionally been used to measure the amount of solids such as feces and rotting foods in treated wastewater released from sewage plants to surface waters or streams.

The cleaner the effluent, the lower the BOD number.

Sewage effluent high in BOD can deplete oxygen in receiving waters, killing fish and changing the ecosystem.

Groups such as the San Luis Obispo Surfrider Foundation question the effect the poorly treated sewage is having on swimmers and surfers in Pismo Beach.

Because the south county plant is outdated, it is allowed a monthly average of no more than 40 mgl BOD before it is in violation of its permit.  Exceeding BOD limit exposes the plant and the rate payers to fines from state regulators.

In comparison, the more modern San Luis Obispo city wastewater plant releases treated sewage at about 1 mgl BOD, or within drinking water standards. Regulatory agencies require modern facilities to keep their BOD in the single digits.

In July, the South County plant violated its 40 mgl BOD limit on ten days with a max result of almost 80 mgl BOD on July 20, according to a graph on the plant’s website.

In 2010, several former South County Sanitation District employees accused administrator John Wallace of funneling thousands of dollars to a private engineering company he owns while concealing environmental violations at the plant. Monies Wallace spent on repairing rather than replacing the outdated facility.

In June, the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury validated allegations that Wallace as the plant administrator had been funneling millions of dollars to his private engineering company without proper oversight and that a conflict of interest exists because Wallace is the plant administrator while his firm retains the engineering contract

The Grand Jury recommends that the district board consider hiring independent management and that it evaluate and compare organizational and operational alternatives for the district.

“The Grand Jury finds the district in a state of denial regarding the conflict of interest and, as a result, the district has taken no effective steps to mitigate the conflict,” the report says.  “The Grand Jury concludes that, as a result, the board and the district are exposed to a number of financial, legal and public trust issues.”

Meanwhile, the sanitation district, which provides sewer services to Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and the unincorporated town of Oceano, has come under fire for violating numerous state and federal environmental requirements. Under Wallace’s leadership district’s reserves have dwindled from $12.2 million in 1998 to about $4.5 million today.

Former employees Devina Douglas and Scott Mascolo contend a former plant supervisor instructed staff to manipulate effluent release numbers in order to keep the public from knowing the aging plant is in need of a complete upgrade. If the plant is modernized, Wallace, who is not qualified to manage a modern sewage plant, would lose a lucrative source of income.

Douglas and Mascolo said that for several years the plant has been unable to comply with environmental requirements during the summer months. Instead administrators avoided sampling when they were not certain they could reach their BOD requirements.

In 2010, former lab technician Douglas said she refused to throw away a sample that showed high levels of bacteria when instructed to do so by Jeff Appleton, the plant superintendent. An event witnessed by four plant employees, according to a water board investigation.

Douglas told CalCoastNews that Appleton asked her several times during 2010 to manipulate samplings in order to cover for problems at the plant.

After taking her concerns to Wallace, who allegedly made no changes, Douglas informed the state and local water boards of the plant’s mismanagement. An investigation that followed resulted in the plant being served multiple notices of violation and Wallace terminating both Douglas and Mascolo.

During periods of non-compliance, Douglas and Mascolo said Wallace would increase sampling to every day in order to reduce the average BOD.

Wallace claimed at a district board of directors meeting last week that the district was voluntarily sampling every day in July in order to better characterize the effluent. At the same meeting, interim plant superintendent Bob Barlogio said the July BOD violation would likely result in fines.

On December 18, as the result of influent pump failures, as much as 3 million gallons of raw sewage was dumped into Oceano neighborhoods, beaches and the Pacific Ocean.

State regulators responded in May and served the district another notice of violation because of the December spill and conflicting sewage release numbers. Wallace answered the violation in June and is awaiting the state’s response which could include fines of up to $30 million that would fall on the communities and the rate payers, and criminal action against district officials if it is determined they responded untruthfully.

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FYI — It looks like the plant violated BOD limits again in August. Though, there are unexplained differences in analyses done by 2 different labs for the same day’s samples.

It is important to see how a waste treatment plant works and what qualities the water has when they put it back into the water table; however, you might like to see where you are pulling your drinking water and whether or not it is at the base of a watershed?

I have never seen a complete spectrum testing of the drinking water in this county. Have you?

I dream of the day when the Pismo Beach plant is repaired, so that the ocean

at Pirates Cove is safe. Right now, I would get a sore throat if I went there.

Viruses are selectively concentrated in sea spray droplets.

… Just wanted to make sure everyone had the right link when Ms. Velie referenced our county’s chapter:

Also, an observation: Waste Water Treatment Plants in Los Osos, Morro Bay, and eventually South SLO County will be developed semi-independently. There’s a lot to learn from Los Osos, but soon we’ll be talking about the results surrounding the design of Morro Bay’s new plant. That plant’s design is pivotal, because it will set a more recent “standard” for what stakeholders can expect to get back from their plant. The new plant isn’t seen as a liability, it’s seen as an opportunity (energy and water conservation, without ocean outfall).

However, South SLO’s establishment isn’t ready to consider opportunities that aren’t also an opportunity for the Wallace Group. The district’s present Org Chart displays the conflict of interest issue for everyone to see (the Grand Jury pointed out the “obvious”, because it’s hard to tell how much money the district has spent to protect the interests of the Wallace Group… independently from district interests). After the Org Chart is fixed, innovative ideas will flow in from Morro Bay and elsewhere, and decisions will be made on a more level playing field without having to filter through a broken, opaque system.

It’s time for leadership to get on a new bus.

And this is the design the county is making Los Osos build? Wouldn’t a more state-of-the-art plant be better? I’m just saying if we have to pay through the nose for it, shouldn’t it be the best that can be built?

I totally agree, shelworth! But since when has Paavo Ogren & Bruce Gibson EVER shown any “common sense” when it comes to “problem solving”? The disaster in Los Osos is BEYOND CRIMINAL, thanks to Bruce, Paavo & the rest of SLO COUNTYS “good old boy” Board of Supervisors!

I agree, RU4. It is shameful what has happened on their watch. How can they live with themselves?

Crack whores have more ethics and honesty than that bunch.

Mary, I really don’t look for too many positive changes by SLO County & Slo County Board of Supervisors. There’s way too much cronyism & favoritism in this County & that leads to massive corruption. Look what all these fools have done to Los Osos.

The state-of-the-at plant at $154 million was rejected in 2005 as being too expensive. We now have an $189 million plant. Just think, the first sewage plant that was rejected in 1984 was $34.6 million.

I guess Paavo Ogren and Maria Kelly have a pretty expensive “vision,” don’t they?

Oh, I think you give them WAY too much credit. My point was, “We Delay, We Pay.” Seems that history lesson wasn’t learned in 2005. But hey, it’s what the voters wanted, right? At no point in the sewer saga did it ever get cheaper.

Both 218s passed for the current project however. Just think, if the Lisa Board had done the 218 the SRF people wanted in 2005, we’d be at $154 million right now. Don’t you wonder about that?

I have some experience with 218s. Turnout defines the outcome. When the group voting is very disillusioned with the corruption and BS they have been fed 24/7 by the people they have elected to make the best decisions for a CSD, turnout can be very low.

Then, in frustration, they go for the recall. If it’s not just a retaliatory move, where the voters vote for anyone who opposed the sitting board members, then the outcome can be beneficial. Often, however, it is not beneficial.

It would help if Los Osos could get rid of all of the corrupt, conflict-of-interest laden politicians trying to gobble up as much as they can from Los Osos. They got rid of one just a little while ago. Maybe another one is on her way out, too.

Well, if it is a state-of-the-art WWT facility, John Wallace can’t manage it, can he?

Priorities, you know.

And isn’t it just ducky that this is the Paavo Ogren sewer “vision” for which Maria Kelly abused her position on the LOCSD board of directors to get passed.

What’s the 411 on Bob Borlogio? He seems to be Mr. Everywhere in the County.

He is one of the few Grade 4’s in the area. You need a Grade 4 for plant operation.

From what I understand Mr. B retired from the CMC, then shortly after accepted a job with the San Simeon CSD’ s contract operations outfit. He then lost his position when Southwest Water/ECO /SOCI was nailed for multiple violations in their operations practices at SSCSD and run off by the the board of directors. The final tally of South Wests violations across Calif at the various locations they managed was in the hundreds of millions of dollars. After SWW lost the contract, Bob then was back at the San Dist as a “temporary” superintendent while former Super Appleton remains out on stress leave and continues to fight State water board charges of fraud, deception etc,etc and defend himself and expose Wallace and his corrupt ways. Court documents would indicate Wallace attempted to hang much of the Districts issues for the several “notice of violations” by the state on Appleton. More BMP’s from Wallace. But but when you can fart butterflies what more should we expect. In defense of Bob,from what I’ve heard, yes he is a straight shooter and honest. Somewhat surprising he’d be involved with the San Dist and their decades long reputation for corruption, bad management, incestuous employment hiring practices.

Thanks for the information. He sounds like a Wallace toady to me but I’ll suspend my judgment until I care enough to make one…lol…sorry, I’m in a funny mood tonight.

Thanks for suspending your judgement! Bob is honest as the day is long and will do the best with what he has to work with. He will openly admit to a problems and violations. With the problems this county has with its waste water facilities, sometimes it is easy to jump from the frying pan to the fire if you don’t spend if you don’t spend enough time researching.

I saw from the article that he appeared to be very forthright about the predicted BOD violations. I’m glad to hear he has a good reputation.

With the amount of experience he has, hither and yon, around the County, I would assume that he has worked in some capacity with the Wallace Group before, as well as a share of our area’s corrupt lawyers.

Let’s hope that when Bob leaves his association with the SSLOCSD that he leaves with the same good reputation he had when he started at the facility.

Okay, can you offer an opinion on, in this situation, if Wallace was lying, would Bob (who was at the same meeting and spoke at that meeting) would let the lie stand?

“During periods of non-compliance, Douglas and Mascolo said Wallace would increase sampling to every day in order to reduce the average BOD.”

“Wallace claimed at a district board of directors meeting last week that the district was voluntarily sampling every day in July in order to better characterize the effluent. At the same meeting, interim plant superintendent Bob Barlogio said the July BOD violation would likely result in fines.”

This is a case where Douglas–who h as years of history working for Wallace at the SSLOCSD–and Wallace–who has years of history covering up BOD violations and siphoning off $millions from a community who can ill afford it–have diametrically different reasons for why the BOD sampling is being done now on a daily basis.

I would feel a lot better if I knew Bob was the kind of a stand-up guy who would call a spade a spade, especially at a public district meeting. These meetings have been basically soirees of Wallace-led disinformation, incomplete information, flat-out lies, and (IMO) criminal coverup of the public health dangers Wallace and his SSLOCSD board thugs, with refreshing intermissions where Wallace and his board thugs insulted and demeaned the audience, many of whom are customers paying for the avarice, greed and corruption occuring under the watch of Wallace and his board thugs.

With his experience, surely Bob knows why the samples are being taken daily. It requires greater expense to process multiple samples compared to the samples taken at the usual intervals. Therefore, there should be a danged good reason for doing the samples daily. That danged good reason does NOT include covering up the lies under oath Wallace and his board thugs told to the GJ, or avoiding heavier fines and sanctions from the namby-pamby. regulatory water boards and SLO County Public Health and DA.

The only interaction with the Wallace group Bob Barlogio has had is at Oceano. And yes, he calls it like it is. Know this, he is there for compliance, not to oversee day to day operations. If they decide to take a sample every thirty seconds, he still reports whatever they have done to state. Regardless if its dirty or clean.

He will call a spade a spade.

What a relief. Truly, the situation at the SSLOCSD is way beyond corrupt at this point. While that isn’t Bob’s purview, it is great to have someone who will accurately report the test results. At least that’s a start towards stopping the ongoing polluting of the ocean by the facility we pay so damned much for.

Bob Barlogio actually resigned from San Sim before the contract ended due to shenanigans.After his resignation, there were noises indicating the new company had wanter to keep him despite opposite rumors when he left.

Oh yea, Southwest Water at San Sim was replaced by a company owned by a buddy of one of the San Sim BOD’s

It would be nice if such claims of violations and court documents were backed with citations. I have difficulty taking it seriously when the rest of your post is fraught with personal attacks. I will make my own judgments based upon documented facts presented.

All the documents are available in various places in PDF format, NOV’s, Enforcement orders from the Water Board, Grand Jury report etc,etc. It would be nice of CCN would include links for all to see when interested. The recent settlement with Southwest water came after years of investigations by the SWRCB and covered multiple locations. The Final enforcement order for the San Dist has yet to be completed. To bad the San Dists management dosent have the nads to post these public documents on the Dist website, the only make reference to a few small issues they have already corrected and everything is now in order. The State is much to blame as Morro bay operates under a waiver with only partial secondary treatment and a NPDES final effluent max of 30 MG/L, yet the San Dist has a 40 MG/l limit and at one point having $12 mil in reserves continues to violate every summer polluting our ocean. Wallace then continues to pilfer public funds on sugar coating his turd of a plant with projects irrelevant to improving the biological process and public safety. It makes no sense from a management or public protection point of view but perfect sense when your a thief stealing from the tax payers deep pockets.

1. Please list some of the “personal attacks” of which you complain is barring you from taking a post seriously.

2. I will make my own judgments on your post based on the documented facts presented.

Thanks! Is a “Grade 4” what Appleton has–but what John Wallace doesn’t have?

MaryMalone, The San Dist plant only requires a Grade III certification, this is what Appleton has or had. Neither Wallace nor any of his staff hold any Wastewater certification. As mentioned previously its interesting Wallace is billing $20,000 a month for operations when by law they cannot direct the actual operations staff in plant operations.

In fact, from what I’ve heard, Wallace sends his WG staff (at the taxpayer’s expense,) to the plant to LEARN from the actual plant staff so he can then take that knowledge to the other plants he manages. To me, it looks like Wallace Group is nothing more than On The Job Training for environmental consultants, funded by our tax payer money.

In order to get a T1 you have to have something like 12 months / X hours of OJT, plus

formal treatment education. That may be the reason Wallace is sending bodies to the plant.

Hmmmm….I wonder if Bob is there to train them, whether he knows it or not.

Here’s the ironic part, there are a few T4’s in the area. They hold the T4 position, collect the

T4 salary, but won’t sign the paperwork required by the position. This is one of the reasons many have seen Bob Barlogio mentioned in articles featuring more than one plant.

Consider that a Grade IV in this area is paid what an Operator in training is being paid in a larger city. This motivates most operators to leave the area for richer rice fields with better retirement,benefits as they say. Douglas who was fired carried a Grade IV lab cert, high as it goes. The Wallace employee, Heather Billings, who replaced Douglas to do reports, etc holds NO certification, nor does any of the current San Dist staff, whats that tell you? Can you say creative book keeping. They wont sign “paper work” as you refer perhaps after what Appleton alleges Wallace did to him. Each operator is personally responsible to uphold their certification and is responsible for their actions or anything the sign. When you have a general manager apparently like Wallace is that threatens your means of making a living you have two choices, quit or place yourself at risk of jail time and fines.

How many more “problems” will it take BEFORE SLO County gets rid of the Wallace Group (& the rest of their “preferred” contractors)? SLO County has a real image problem & needs to clean up all the corruption within County Government…

At least their interim plant superintendent is a straight shooter that isn’t pencil whipping the paperwork. He says the plant is dirty. The reports going to state at least tell the right story.

thanks for the kind words, Mr. Harumph. I try to be a straight shooter. My belief is that be up front and honest with the water boards, they will be with you. I send the reports to the water board.

let them know what is happening, good and bad. I try and do the same for the SSLOCSD board members also.

Again, thanks for the kind words

BOB! Just the man I was looking for! You really are “Mr. Everywhere”!

Say, perhaps you can answer a question I asked from another poster, who has a high opinion of you.

Understand, before I moved to AG I was plenty cynical, but not cynical enough for the local brand of corruption here, especially BOD-laden SSLOCSD facility.

[And isn’t it funny that the acronym for “Biochemical Oxygen Demand” and “Board of Directors” is the same. At the SSLOCSD, one could easily confuse the two because the characteristics of both are so similar.]

So my questions about what a reasonable person can expect from the new plant administrator in the way of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay is not a slam at you personally. It’s just that the SSLOCSD has been so fracked up for so long, with corruption and greed seeming to rule every decision made there, I’ve come to not automatically trust those associated with the WWT facility.

At the last SSLOCSD meeting, Wallace claimed “…the district was voluntarily sampling every day in July in order to better characterize the effluent.

The article also indicates Ms. Douglas has claimed “During periods of non-compliance, Douglas and Mascolo said Wallace would increase sampling to every day in order to reduce the average BOD.

Since you seem to be the one given the chore of getting the most accurate data possible under difficult conditions, is Wallace or Douglas correct? In your experience, why would a WWT facility take on the extra work and expense of dong daily testing when it isn’t required?

Hi MaryMalone,

I normally try and stay out of the spotlight. Please check the district’s web site for board agendas for more information. We sampled every day last January to characterize the water coming in and going out. We also did the same in July.

Bob–working for SSLOCSD is going to keep you in the spotlight, that’s for sure.

Thanks for the info. I appreciate it.

Please check out the District’s web site, agendas. We sampled BODs every day twice a year to characterize our water going out.

MaryMalone, The Districts website offer’s little information with regards to the recent investigations and NOV’s, yeah for 0 transparency by a government agency. Allow me to elaborate on the BOD sampling arrangement. BTW , all facility NPDES permits are available on line, also see then follow the link to the agenda’s which will have the super’s reports and other pertinent information you questioned.

The District is required by law to sample for a BOD once every 7 days unless operational problems dictate otherwise. See “honor system” or “self monitoring”, concepts Wallace and his people are unable to comprehend apparently. Their limits on a BOD’s for a one time incident are 90MG/l, 60MG/L for the week and 40 MG/L for the months average. In the month of July the District had BOD results as high as 78MG/L. Take all these to high results and average them up and their way over the monthly average of 40 MG/L. This is where Wallace will order up BOD’s done everyday if necessary in hopes of having enough super low results to reduce the too high average. Wallace’s comment their better characterizing the effluent by voluntarily sampling every day is a very misleading statement. Sure they could use the to high average and get yet another violation with Minimum Mandatory Penalties (MMP’S) or do everything possible to lower the average by sampling everyday and save face. Its still unclear if the District even is legally allowed to do in house testing such as BOD’s after ELAP revoked their lab cert following Douglas’s termination. If that’s the case the Dist is still having Abalone Coast labs do this testing everyday including the normal daily testing saving us nothing as the original Wallace misinformation indicated. I can say Wallace may be beginning to see the light as he now has a position open for a environmental compliance inspector. Little late there isn’t it?

Look, not to be the voice of dissension here, but the plant is well within their rights to sample every day, and if that lowers the BOD numbers, more power to them. That shouldn’t be the issue.

The REAL issue and what people should be concerned about is WHY the numbers are getting so high. It’s simple: that plant gets strained during the summer with excess loadings the tourism industry brings here PLUS the warmed temperatures mean more biological growth in the plant’s Fixed Film Reactor. More growth means more stuff to get washed off when the plant performs those routine flushes we’ve heard about in this series of CCN articles.

The SSLOCSD plant simply can not adequately perform during the summer months. Wallace and Appleton have been trying to hide this fact, likely because if the plant gets upgraded the certification requirements to run the plant will likely get upped as well and Appleton will no longer be albe to run the plant, and an upgraded plant will not need all the small-scale repair engineering projects Wallace uses as excellent justification for bilking the rate payers.

What we’ve got here is a political/financial case of Munchausen by proxy. Wallace needs to keep that plant sick so Wallace Group can take care of it.

Turns out, Mr. Wallace, the rest of us have gotten sick too. …Sick of your crap.

I am disgusted by what that man has done to our county and if I thought he had any shame, I’d tell him he should be ashamed of himself.

Sorry, Chuck. I disagree. I highly doubt that anything is allowed if it is part of a coverup operation.

With the past history of coverup and fraud at the facility, their motivations are very important. They may have the right to do it, but I also have the right to contact the regulators and express my concern that they are doing it to coverup continuing violations.

Again, thanks for the info.

The problem I have with being referred to the SSLOCSD website is that the same frauds in charge of the oversight of the WWT facility are also in charge of what goes up on the website.

At this point, they are so notorious from their antics while trying to coverup their own corruption, as well as the corruption of John wallace, including flat out lying to the GJ, really, to trust anything that is in their control is beyond gullibility.

I am one of the customers who the SSLOCSD and John Wallace have ripped off by their greedy looting of the reserves and piss-poor management of the facility.

This may be hard to believe, but my mother didn’t raise any doormats, and I am not one to lie down and let the likes of Wallace, Ferrara, and the rest of that bunch make a habit of wiping their feet on me.

The reason I asked so many questions about, and to, Bob is because, like it or not, in my book, while he is associated with that corrupt bunch, his reputation is suspect– in my book. Hopefully, his shining honor and service there will show that an honest person can actually work at the SSLOCSD and not get corrupted (or fired, like Douglas). Time will tell.

There’s an old saying, “When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”

I think the County and the Wallace Group have been in bed together for so many decades that their fleas are all now one and the same.

In other words, I would not expect either to take any action that would make the other party uncomfortable in any way, shape or form.

Regarding Douglas’s termination, it should be pointed out that Wallace and his cronies told us the Sanitation District was in financial hardship thus her termination to save tax payer money. Apparently they found a pot of gold somewhere recently as the new budget gives District employees a 3% pay increase. One would think Wallace would bribe the staff with more that that to keep their mouths shut when the regulators come knocking . Let us also not forget Wallace’s comments over a year ago reassuring the public he and his privately owned company would regroup and also cut back on costs to save tax payer funds. As of the July 2011 agenda I see $70,000 in charges still. Oh and congratulations to either Wallace or some of his staff as they must be licensed operators now as $20,000 or those fees were specifically for “operations.” When will the lies and misuse of our public funds from these cowards stop?

The thing about Douglas’ termination that is a loss to the community at large is, not only the fact that we lost someone with a good deal of experience and honesty to watch out for us at SSLOCSD, but she didn’t have a chance to find out other fraud and corruption being perpetrated at the facility.

I think the reason Wallace did such a brazenly obvious termination of Douglas, a whistleblower, was not so much what she had found out already….but what she might discover if she was allowed further worker access to the facility.

When it rains the sewer becomes a storm drain that causes that facility to run at multiple times its average daily flow design criteria, which it turns causes the release of millions of gallons untreated sewage.

Why hasn’t the Water Board issued the requiste fine of $10 per gallon, EVER?

Great “reporting” Ms. Velie! May I suggest be implemented to get those “rainy day” numbers, on the San Luis Obispo City Facility.

This may make for a wonderful “Where’s the parity” piece.