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Feather River Bulletin
Quincy, California
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January 27, 2010     Feather River Bulletin
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January 27, 2010
 

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Feather River Bulletin Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 9A State mandates raise Portola sewer costs Diana Jorgenson Portola Editor djorgenson@plumasnews.com The Portola City Council re- viewed new requirements in its wastewater discharge per- mit at its Jan. 13 meeting and found that meeting these re- quirements will put the sewer fund into a negative balance situation for the first time. The permit is granted by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and allows the city to discharge wastewater into the Feather River for a brief period every spring. The permit, which lasts for five years, was originally granted last April, but Public Works Director Todd Roberts and Sauers Engineering, contract- ed by the city to help with the sewer system management plan, objected to some of the many new requirements. Roberts introduced the pre- sentation by saying the cost of meeting the permit was going to be astronomical, but thanks to Karen Nelson of Sauers Engineering, they could reduce the cost, which remained substantial. "We did get a bunch of stuff that had been in the permit removed. It involved fighting (the water board) and stand- ing our ground, but we did it and it saved the city a lot of money," said Roberts. Nelson and Dean Marsh, her partner at Sauers Engi- neering, and Roberts chal- lenged several of the items be- cause they felt they didn't ap- ply to the city's system and they cost a lot of money. On other issues, Nelson felt they were the wrong way to ap- proach some things. "They (water board staff) really worked with us. They came to your town and we walked them through the site. We demonstrated what some of the issues were: they have to apply the law to your sys- tem," Nelson said. Water board staff subse- quently relieved the city from a number of studies and the regional board approved the final permit last October. Nelson gave a brief overview of the city's sewer system, "It's a wastewater pond system--very low tech- nology. It's been there a long time, but is extremely cost ef- fective over anything else that's out there. "So, to the extent that we can keep it running and keep it in compliance with the law, I believe it will save you mil- lions of dollars over going to a more sophisticated system. It's very reliable, economical, stable; (has) very little energy consumption and requires minimal operator attention relative to other systems." Nelson felt she would know how well the system would weather the storm of the new requirements after it had gone through its discharge season this spring. She also pointed out city staff had already changed many of their ways of dis- charge to evaporate more and by using spray irrigation. Re- ducing the amount of dis- charge reduces the potential for violation Nelson pointed out. Sewer ponds discharge into the Feather River whenever they get overfull, either in winter or spring, but must ad- here to a strict set of guide- lines in doing so. Like other sewer systems and municipalities across the state, Portola is also meeting deadlines for the sewer sys- tem management plan, man- dated by the state through the regional water board. The city council has al- ready approved the goals and "When we do next year's budget, it equates to a potential rate increase to the residents~ and we haven't even started to talk about Lake Davis treatment plant costs yet, but it equates to a pretty significant rate increase." Jim Murphy, City Manager organization portions of the management plan and has an Overflow Emergency Re- sponse Plan in place. Nelson outlined the next portions of the plan, with deadlines prior to the end of the city's fiscal year in July, and presented cost estimates ' for Sauers Engineering's time in preparing them. The first task outlined re- quires the city to demonstrate through sewer ordinances and sewer contracts that the city possesses legal authority over the sewer. The Sauers Engineering proposal pointed out that task does not require a licensed engineer so the work could be completed by city staff, if desired. Other work needing com- pletion by Feb. 2 includes the operations and maintenance program, a comprehensive document that maps the col- lection system, documents preventive maintenance pro- gram, develops replacement plans, outlines operator train- ing programs and inventories equipment. Finally, the city must im- plement a fats, oils and grease control program, which in- cludes public outreach as well as grease interceptors on food service connections to the sewer. The toxics reduction evalu- ation work plan must be in place by April 8, and is the guiding document if, during the life of the permit, toxicity testing falls out of compli- ance. The mixing zone dilution study must occur this spring during the discharge period, which is usually brief. Inject- ed dye traces the dilution pat- terns of the effluent during discharge into the river. The work plan and schedule for completing the best practi- cable treatment or control re- port is also due April 8. The two- or three-year project will entail a comprehensive tech- nical evaluation of each sys- tem element. Sauers must also complete a study of discharge elimina- tion during periods of high electrical conductivity in the Feather River and a ground- water monitoring work plan. The groundwater monitor- ing work plan will include se- lected locations for the instal- lation of shallow monitoring wells, as well as look into the feasibility of using one or more Union Pacific ground- water monitoring wells as a source of up-gradient infor- mation. Nelson estimated the need for one to two wells up gradient and three down-gra- dient wells. Nelson also foresaw the need for salinity studies in the future, which are being required throughout the state. The work required of Sauers Engineering to fulfill state re- quirements due before the end of the current fiscal year totaled $74,000, with another estimated $15,000 for drilling wells. Finance Officer Susan Scar- lett asked if the council want- ed to know how much money was currently in the sewer fund. City Manager Jim Mur- phy commented he didn't think the state cared if the city had the money, but coun- cil members did. Scarlett reported there was $36,000 in undesignated funds available. Murphy added, "The rea- son this is so important is be- cause this is the first time we will have a negative balance in the sewer fund. "When we do next year's budget, it equates to a poten- tial rate increase to the resi- dents-and we haven't even started to talk about Lake Davis treatment plant costs yet, but it equates to a pretty significant rate increase." Roberts attributed the in- creased costs to environmen- talist group California Sport Fishing Alliance monitoring the regional water board to make sure the letter of the law was fulfilled and to limit the board's ability to make in- dividual exceptions. Mayor John Larrieu wanted to know if the city could make up the difference from the General Fund. Murphy said no, that sewer, water and solid waste were all enterprise funds and were fee-based. Scarlett said she would talk to city engineer Dan Bastian to see if any of the elements would qualify for money from the sewer's capital fund, but knew that studies were not eligible. Murphy commented, "When you've got 1,100 users and you're asking $74,000..." Nelson said Roberts had used that argument with the board. "You're taking money away from improvements to the wastewater treatment plant. You won't be able to do any sewer line improvements that you should be doing because you're paying for studies that, by and large, aren't improv- ing water quality to the riv- er," she said, Murphy said the city of Col- fax, with a smaller customer base than Portola, had switched from a pond system to a treatment plant and it had cost them $10 million. Citizen Bob Morton wanted to know why the ponds were even allowed so close to the river when the landfill, which was a considerable distance away, was closed because of leaching to the river. Nelson explained that dumps were quite another matter and heavy metals were at issue; ex- treme toxins like battery acid and Freon don't come out in any natural process. "The wastewater at your treatment plant is essentially what your people flush down the toilet and it does biode- grade naturally," she said. Roberts added it was treat- ed as well, "It's all organic." There were several guess- es-ranging from the '50s to the '70s--as to when the ponds were originally placed there, but no one knew for certain. Nelson summarized the sit- uation, "For cities like yours that don't have a lot of indus- trial discharge, they (ponds) really do a pretty good job across the board. We can do things to even improve that, things that are still fairly pas- sive and low tech." "And some day," Murphy concluded, "we can talk about the $700,000 deficit in the solid waste fund because of the forced closure of the landfill, which is exactly the same is- sue that we're talking about here." QUINCY TrLE LEAGUE SIGN-UPS.I Wednesday, February 3rd and Tuesday, February 9th 5:30- 7:30pm Quincy High School Cafeteria *50 per player '125 maximum per family All prospective players MUST bring their birth certificate and a parent MUST be present to register For more information, contact Katie Gay 283-2624 or Tracy Pilgrim 283-2910