Grover Beach under fire for water violations

June 27, 2013

meadow creekBy KAREN VELIE

The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has levied a $35,000 fine against the city of Grover Beach for repeatedly failing to provide the state reports that would expose deficiencies in its storm water discharge program, according to a June 26 complaint.

In August 2010, regulators informed city staff that they were not in compliance with reporting requirements regarding its storm water sewer system which dumps into Meadow Creek. Five days later, city staff responded by email saying they would provide the state the required reports.

However, city staff did not comply which resulted in a notice of violation.

In December 2010, city staff informed regulators that they would submit the required reports by Dec. 10, 2010. And again, city staff failed to provide the state the required reports.

In March 2012, regulators filed another notice of violation against the city for its failure to provide reports for 2011. In Oct. 2012, regulator filed a third notice of violation against the city, this time for not submitting reports for 2012.

California Water Code section 13385 sets maximum penalties for waste water discharge violators. According to the water board’s complaint, the city faces a maximum fine for its repeated failures of $20,270,000.

Regulators, however, are permitted to lower the fine to no less than the economic benefit the entity derived from the violation.

Repeated failures to report waste water charge information may be done in order to mask violations and delay enforcement actions, the complaint says.

On March 14, water board staff conducted a limited inspection of the city’s discharge program and found that Grover Beach “is in violation or deficient in implementation of almost every general permit requirement.”

“It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the discharger’s failure to submit annual reports for the first three years of regulation by the general permit represents more than just reporting violations,” the complaint says.

The Grover Beach City Council can elect to either pay the $35,000 fine or request a hearing which would be set for Sept. 12. Nevertheless, city staff is still obligated to produce the three years of reports.

In addition, the city could face further fines of up to $30,000 per day for each day following the complaint that the city fails to turn in the reports, the complaint says. The city is also liable for any fines related to violations the water board discovers in the reports.

 


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WiserGuy

Check out the scene along Fourth Street south of Grand Avenue in Grover Beach. Many of the auto repair places and other industrial shops hose down their driveways and wash toxic waste into the street where it runs across Fourth Street and into a ditch (or the many pot holes) that drain into the aquifer, the ocean and the lagoon in Oceano. It’s an environmental travesty that has been going on for decades with no sign of efforts to end it.

surfdawg

I say there’s something to be said for telling the State to pound sand when some cubicle rat in Sacramento comes up with another mandate for cities with no funding to support it. The staff in Grover is pretty small, it’s all about priorities.

I commend Grover Beach, and hope they file for the hearing. Sacramento needs to get it’s own house in order.

info

Check out http://www.stormwatercosts.com

Grover Beach was required to implement a Storm Water Management Program for the past 5 years. Thats a whole lot of staff time plus the cost of annual implementation. If they get off with just a 35k fine, those decision makers saved the City some serious dough. If all they do is pay the fine and implement the new Permit recently adopted – their golden. We will see if the ‘gamble’ will pay off.

MaryMalone

They are required by law to report on a regular basis. Didn’t you read the article? They knew of the requirement because they repeatedly promised that they would provide the reports, but failed to do so.

Facilities of this nature have to meet certain reporting standards. This is to ensure the safety of all the humans who both depend on the facility’s services, but also others who are impacted by the operation of the facility.

One of the reporting requirements is the amount of salts in the fluid discharged. This is for a number of reasons, one of which is damage to the underlying aquifer if high-saline discharge is dumped into the surface of the groundwater basin. This is basically what happens in WWT percolation ponds. The fluid is absorbed by the soil (leaving behind the “solids,” which usually have to be disposed of separately) and eventually makes its way into the groundwater itself. Along the way, in theory, the harmful contents of the effluent is absorbed and “fixed” to the soil or otherwise rendered harmless.

If Grover Beach does not want to do the reporting, then they need to close the facilities that are discharging.

analyticone

The ‘discharge’ is not waste water. It is storm water. Grover Beach was ahead of its time in the 70’s when it implemented building codes requiring all new building to recapture storm water onsite. In this way many properties return more water to the aquifer than the occupants actually consume.

Unfortunately, the City doesn’t have the resources to implement the State’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ unfunded mandate that has reporting requirements that would cost the City $150,000 a year.

MaryMalone

GB doesn’t have the luxury to simply choose what state regulations it does not want to comply with, and then use the excuse of “we don’t got no money.”

They have money for the city council members’ pay, don’t they? For paying their electricity bill? Paying their office staff? Pimping up Grand Avenue with palms and twinkling lights?

Complying with the reporting requirements is part of the costs of operation of the city. If they don’t have the money, then the first thing they need to immediately GET the money necessary to complete and submit the required documents to bring them into compliance.

The second thing they need to do is to investigate who it was responsible for failing to meet state requirements for filing necessary documents regarding stormwater discharge. Then that person needs to be FIRED.

Then they need to investigate why the city council failed their duty of oversight of the city’s management and allowed this failure to comply with state regulations to occur; publish the findings, and then bring charges (if indicated) against the council members, and replace them with competent leadership in the city council.

Finally, they need to investigate the person or organization providing the functions of city engineer and sue them for not doing what was necessary to keep GB in compliance with state stormwater reporting requirements.

Reality Check

Another way to look at this: Grover Beach may be in a financial situation that prohibits doing the upgrades to storm water run off and certainly doesn’t have the financial reserves to pay the hefty fines.

Look at the terrible conditions of their streets. They lost, along with many cities, their RDA. That had to add financial burdens.

I wonder if the City Manager and staff were doing their best to walk a thin line and got caught up by the regulatory agency before they could find the money to make improvements and / or before they could provide evidence of compliance.

We all want to avoid dirty discharge into the ocean. I wonder if the rules governing the relative cleanliness of discharge storm water have been increased to require almost “drinking water” purity. Such a high standard would presumably require retrofitting and collection / filtering systems. Probably out of the financial means of most of the cities in California.

So to carry the fines to their worst case conclusion, it seems possible that this situation could bankrupt Grover Beach.

aft50s

Perhaps they could sell the palm trees and twinkle lights on Grand Ave. to raise the funds to comply with the regulations…

analyticone

The twinkle lights are funded by the merchants and the palm trees by a SLOCOG grant. Improving the ambiance of Grand Avenue slows traffic and brings more shoppers. THAT will provide funds to help support unfunded mandates by the state.

MaryMalone

Analyticone, your excuses for GB’s management and leadership failing to keep GB in compliance with state-required reporting is ludicrous. It is on the level of letting the electricity to the city offices be turned off because they didn’t budget the money for a necessary component of operating a city.

State-required reporting is required by law. For a city to operate, it must be in compliance with state and federal laws.

The city council and city manager should not be wasting time getting grants or arranging funding by city merchants for palm trees, twinkly lights, or anything else, as long as they are not meeting state-mandated reporting requirements.

It is called “priorities,” and the city council/city manager’s lack of competence in setting priorities has not only created a scandal for GB but has also saddled GB with fines for noncompliance.

It is funny when Barney Fife on a TV show is unable to competently set priorities. It is tragic when city leadership and management is incompetent to set priorities.

aft50s

That is a very bold statement you made “Improving the ambiance of Grand Avenue slows traffic…” I believe you left out a key phrase “has the potential to”.

I am afraid that no matter what GB does, such as a name change, palm trees, twinkle lights, artistic crosswalks, or canted parking, the street is too damn wide to have the small hometown ambiance the City is looking for. GB will never “feel” like the Village of AG or downtown SLO.

MaryMalone

If GB does not have the funding to operate the facilities, then they need to stop operating the facilities and clean up any mess they are found to have created.

There is a reason for not reporting. The reason could very well be that they have something to hide.

isoslo

So let me see if I got this right. The employees fail to perform the job they were hired to do. The state says the the failure is so egregious that it warrants a hefty fine. The employees keep their job, with benefits or maybe transfer to another position or even start collecting a lavish retirement, but in no way do the employees who caused the problem suffer. The ratepayers get stuck with the bill. Is that about the sum of what is wrong with government employees…no accountability.

The employees who caused the problem should be fired, sued and forced to give up their retirement to the extent of the fine!

MaryMalone

As we saw with SSLOCSD, ultimately the information that gets submitted to reporting agencies is what the management wants submitted.

And if the employee tries to force the issue, again, look to the SSLOCSD for what happens. Their lives are made living heII by the employer and they end up being shoved out the door, one way or another.

doggin

Generally speaking a regulatory program of this magnitude is directed by the top brass. If you’d like to point fingers, then why don’t your point it at the City manager Bob Perrault and not the little guy who gets screwed over by bad management practices. If that dosent work for you the how about the individuals who create these programs. After all you all voted them in to office.

Niles Q

OK, so is it storm water or waste water, because the two are very different. Doesn’t Grover belong to the sewer district in Oceano? So it’s probably not waste water.
Storm water makes more sense, since that whole storm water management plan thing is only about 3 years old.
And is that right? They could be fined $20 million?
That’s clearly a veiled threat by the water board. There is no way in hell the RWQCB could ever fine someone that much money without direct proof of there being some kind of toxic or contamination spill and biological and environmental damage done to that creek.
Threatening people with huge fines and then settling for a pittancce is how the water board works.
Grover should just pay the fine and produce the paperwork.
There’s no sense in fighting them over this. Just take the money out of the reserves and pay them and be done with it.

MaryMalone

QUOTING NILES Q: “OK, so is it storm water or waste water, because the two are very different.

Suggestion: try looking up a question before launching an opinion about it.

EPA: COMBINED SEWER OUTFLOWS (http://tinyurl.com/cg464yf)

EPA: STORMWATER DISCHARGES FROM MUNICIPAL SEPARATE STORMWATER SYSTEMS (http://tinyurl.com/cg464yf)

http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/home.cfm?program_id=5
http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/munic.cfm

Guy_Wise

WE dont have CSOs – Stormwater goes directly to the creeks and discharges directly to the ocean!

Vagabond

Lets see the RWQCB needs documented proof in order to fine someone? Please do me a favor and look outside, what color is the sky on your world? Then lets ask someone in the Prohibition Zone in Los Osos that question.
Yes they can fine Grover Beach whatever they want, they can fine individual homeowners for the ineptitude of their elected governing body.

Maxfusion

Twenty million for failing to submit reports. The bureaucracy in a nutshell. Why, because the goober doesn’t know how to do anything but shuffle papers. That’s why they’re goobers.

MaryMalone

The environmental damage from unlawful sewer, stormwater, and combined sewer stormwater discharges can leave pollution legacies that negatively impact the health of humans, and it can last for many decades. That is why the reporting is vital to the safety of residents.

It seems pretty clear to me that Grover Beach was thumbing their nose at requirements for documentation, and they were doing it because they did not want to incur the fines from the water board AND the wrath from GB voters.

This is something we should all be concerned about because we don’t live in a vacuum and damage to the environment in GB could very easily spread to other areas…perhaps even the area where you live, including impacting the water you and your family drink.

A related concern is the reality that one of the three-member SSLOCSD board of directors is from the GB city council members. The other two members are from Arroyo Grande and Oceano.

So the same GB city-council mindset that thumbed its nose at the water board for its reporting is one of a three-member BOD for SSLOCSD.

And GB isn’t the only dysfunctional city which provides a city-council member to sit on the SSLOCSD BOD.

OCSD isn’t even able to follow the Brown Act regulations, which are pretty straight forward. For years, they haven’t even been able to hire a GM or legal representation which has a clue about the issues (legal and other) involved in running a CSD. And that is just one of many issues which have plagued OCSD for years.

Then, of course, there is Arroyo Grande. Mayor Tony Ferrara is a joke, who lives and breathes cronyism, as evidenced by his stalwart support of John Wallace’s LOSER administration of the SSLOCSD for decades.

So we have three dysfunctional cities providing the members of the board for the SSLOCSD. No wonder SSLOCSD has been run so incredibly poorly, with no oversight of the ex-administrator, John Wallace, resulting in $$$ fines for SSLOCSD, which the rate-payers will pay.

The SSLOCSD board of directors has cost us plenty over the decades it has consisted of representatives from each of the three government agencies that use the WWT facility. It has resulted in at least one huge major environmental disaster, where raw sewage spewed into homes in Oceano.

For all of these reasons, and many more, the fact that Grover Beach completely failed to meet its reporting requirements FOR YEARS is a dangerous situation for all of us.

Maxfusion

Oh Mary, you’re engaging in the Sisyphean task of defending the indefensible. I worked for the private firm that served as city engineers for the City of Grover for 14 years. I watched the mountains of required paperwork grow over that period of time. Why? To grow their departments, lavish salaries, and retirements. That, and that only, is the driving force. But alas, why waste my time confusing a true believer with on the front line facts. Grover does a damn good job of managing waste.

doggin

You worked for the private company that served as engineers. So which one was it? GTA or the Wallace Group who’s owner is personal friends with Grover city manager Perrault. You..I mean.. they also provided the SSMP and FOG programs for Grover, so it stands to reason the quite possibly provided Grovers storm water plan. Can speak for GTA, but if it was the later of the two you have some grande nuts criticizing somebodies lavish salaries when your boss J. Wallace has effectively raped the citizens of this county lining his pockets with tax payer funds. Retirements you say? hows 8 properties scattered about and a trip Mexico every few months on the tax payers dime? Ahh..but alas..why waste my time trying to convince narcissistic crooks of their wrong doing. And yes Grover is a fine example of waste..I mean managing waste, but I sure like those rainbow cross walks. Undoubtedly the return on them by attracting tourists has more than covered the outlay of tax funds.

Maxfusion

GTA

MaryMalone

The fact that you work for ANY engineering firm whose clients include facilities that handle wastewater and/or stormwater, and you whine about the requirements of reporting, is absolutely obscene.

What the heII do you think engineering consultants get paid for? Was it GTA’s responsibility to provide engineering services for GB’s stormwater program? If so, and reports were not filed, even after the state gave multiple attempts to GB to file them, then you and GTA are some cheap piece of work and YOU should pay the danged fines.

Maxfusion

Oh and by the way, I agree with you in the matter of Mr. Wallace.

MaryMalone

Your attitude has the same stench as does John Wallace’s attitude.

MaryMalone

LOL. Blame the regulations and regulators for Grover Beach’s willful noncompliance, after many, many attempts by the state to get GB to comply.

You don’t operate a facility if you are not able to do the reporting. End of story.

Gosh, John Wallace should have used that defense for why he didn’t accurately report the huge sewage spill.

But somehow, I don’t think the whining “I didn’t report it because the reports are so haaard to fill out” excuse will fly.

doggin

Mr. you know who needs no excuses for the inaccurate reporting. I overheard him tell others they intended to report the smallest SSO amount he could possibly get by with and anything more would have to have been proven. This obviously was not the truth which in turn has lead to costly litigation funded by the public. Sad part is this likely was the recommendation of the legal council.

justchuck

oops “Under Water for Fire Violations?”

justchuck

What’s next? A headline stating “Grover Beach under Fire for Water Violations”?