Sanitation district needs an independent investigation
July 2, 2012
Following the major sewage spill of December 2010 and news reports of water quality reporting irregularities at the waste water treatment plant of South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District (SSLOCSD), Surfrider Foundation San Luis Obispo began our request for an independent investigation of the plant.
At the core of the investigation, we want to know whether the sewage spill and ongoing employee litigation were the results of poor management, or possible mismanagement, which extended beyond the actions of the former plant manager. A truly independent investigation such as this would assure ratepayers, beach-goers, surfers, and swimmers that, despite its recent difficulties, the district is prepared to demonstrate transparent leadership across all levels of management, including the actions of Plant Administrator, Chief Engineer, and contractor at the plant, Wallace Group.
It is unfortunate for the citizens of Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande that their representatives, Bill Nicolls and Tony Ferrara, have not seen the implementation of our requested investigation as a positive step in the right direction. Instead, they have left the public, and perhaps the Water Board, to speculate: “Where there’s smoke, is there fire?”
The Water Board knows that three former state-certified technicians (two of them in leadership positions) have brought litigation against the district in the last two years. Without the “whistle-blowers” working at the plant, is the district meeting its sampling and water quality discharge obligations? We don’t know for sure.
Is the present Plant Administrator and Chief Engineer the best fit for the district? We don’t know… until either an investigation is performed, or some other qualified individual has the opportunity to succeed in that role.
In preparation for the Water Board hearing on September 6th, we ask the following:
We suggest the district publicly disclose the legal findings in the finalized cases of the district’s former employees (mentioned above) along with the district’s legal costs and settlements associated with those cases.
We ask the district to undergo unscheduled, independent effluent sampling and testing by an independent firm to help assure the plant is meeting its discharge requirements. This testing could take place at various times over a period of several months, and results could be posted to SSLOCSD website and reported to the Water Board. This testing process could be very useful for the district in proving they are meeting water quality standards, especially if the district chooses to appeal the Water Board’s decision after September 6th.
We ask that the SSLOCSD board of directors authorize an independent investigation of management’s financial and operational actions at their waste water treatment plant over the last three years. This will assure ratepayers and beach-goers that malfeasance was not an issue, and it will help resolve speculation by the public and by the Water Board.
We ask that the SSLOCSD board of directors create and submit to the Water Board a Supplemental Environmental Program proposal whereby one-half of the district’s December 2010 sewage spill fine will be passed to the County of San Luis Obispo’s Department of Environmental Health Services and be explicitly designated for the purpose of improving SLO County’s ocean water quality monitoring program.
Ultimately, for the SSLOCSD to work towards transparency and build trust with the public and Water Board, they must show that they are concerned stewards of our water resources and our environment. Until they do so, we will continue to be skeptical of their “behind closed doors” style of management. If you are also skeptical, we suggest expressing your concerns to the city council of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, and Oceano CSD.
The Surfrider Foundation of San Luis Obispo County Executive Committee members include Brad Snook (Chair), Jennifer Blonder (Vice Chair), Carol Georgi (Treasurer), Jennifer Joswiak (Secretary), Melissa Latimer (Volunteer Coordinator).