Santa Paula Wastewater: 15 Years of Compliance Inaction

By Sheryl Hamlin

2004 Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR)

The compliance chronology of the Santa Paula Wastewater plant started with the 2004 DEIR (Draft Environmental Impact Review). In November 2004, the DEIR was distributed on CD to all local agencies and property owners in the vicinity of the proposed plant. The City of Santa Paula has a printed copy of this in the Planning Department. Read the Executive Summary here: Executive Summary

Responses to DEIR

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) responded with the following letter. Read the LARWQCB response here: Response.

The LARWQCB specifically calls out “salts” in the response to the DEIR. The Santa Paula response to the LARWQCB response is particularly important: Santa Paula Response.

The most important sentence in the City of Santa Paula response is as follows:

Salts: The salts (chloride) in the wastewater stream to the WRF will be addressed through source controls. A separate project has been defined to evaluate source control options for salts in the wastewater stream in the City of Santa Paula. This project will include a separate Project Report and associated environmental evaluation under CEQA.

Is the possibility of another project specifically addressing chloride mitigation acceptble to the various agencies?

2005 Potable Water Master Plan 2005

Concurrent to the 2004 DEIR, the City of Santa Paula published in 2005 the Potabler Water Master Plan. Read that plan here: 2005 Potable Water Master Plan

In the 2005 plan the City recognizes that the salt based home water softeners are the largest contributor to the chloride problem, so proposes a city wide water softening plant.

The 2005 water master plan was amended to include East Area 1 and II, but did not remove explicitly the City Wide Water Softener Plant. Amended 2005 Plan

Could the City Wide Water Softening Project as described in the 2005 Plan be the project the city references in its response to the LAWQCB?

Response to United Water Conservation District (UWCD)

Contrasting the city’s response to the LAWQCB, the 2004 DEIR shows Santa Paula’s vague response for the use of recycled water in its response to UWCD. Whereas the response previously cited to the LAWQCB specifically mentioned a project, the response to UWCD is vague as follows in Response R5-2:

Refer to response S5-3, above. In addition, storm water runoff from the project will be contained on site and directed to the on site storm drain detention basin and percolation ponds. Therefore, there is not an issue relative to reduction in recharge to the Santa Paula Ground Water Basin (SPGB). Further, the project involves a commitment to reclamation of wastewater for beneficial reuse. Such recycled water will be fully compliant with permits issued by the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) – Los Angeles and California Department of Health Services (CDHS) relative to California Title 22 unrestricted reuse water regulations. The level of acceptance and the timing of reuse of such waters are as yet unknown; therefore, the extent of reductions of existing discharges of wastewater to the Santa Clara River are also unknown. Treated wastewater disposed in the percolation ponds would, in effect, remain in the shallow alluvial system and be potentially available for diversion by United Water Conservation District at the Freeman Diversion in a fashion similar to the current direct discharge of wastewater to the Santa Clara River.

Note phrase “the level and the timing of reuse of such waters are as yet unknown”. So in the same document, the city tells one agency about a potential project but to another the timing is “unknown”. Read all responses here: All Responses

2005 Council Approves DEIR

At the April 25, 2005 council meeting, the council approved on a 4-0 vote the DEIR, which essentially turns the DEIR into the Final Eir (FEIR). Read the Minutes here: Council Minutes

Voting ‘yes’ were Krause, Cook, Luna, and Procter with Council Member Aguirre absent. The meeting lasted until about midnight with many citizens speaking. Had the council read the responses to the DEIR indicating the city had committed itself to a chloride project?

The FEIR was sent to the State of California and to the County on June 14, 2005.

County Submission letter

The “New Plant”

The plant was operational in 2010. Read that 2007-2010 history here.

With no Chloride Mitigation in the RFQ or RFP, the new plant was built unable to mitigate for chlorides. This has been verified by several investigations including the County Grand Jury. Yet, the City of Santa Paula still sued the DBOF (Design Build Operate and Finance) partner (Santa Paula Water, LLC) for not supplying a chloride solution.

There is nothing in any of the available council minutes indicating the status of the city wide Water Softener plant which is clearly defined in the 2005 Potable Master Plan.

2011 Urban Water Master Plan

The 2011 Urban Water Master Plan prepared by Milner-Villa Consulting for Santa Paula continues to call out chlorides as an issue with the Santa Paula plant, but there is no mention or description of a solution. Read that report here: 2010 Urban Plan

The report specifically states that before Santa Paula considers recycling wastewater, a plan must be developed:

The use of recycled water for nonpotable purposes will require a permit from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) with input and concurrence by DPH. In some counties the Environmental Health Department also takes an active role in monitoring and commenting on a project and is a county-by-county decision. It is recommended that the City prepare a recycled water feasibility study for the first phase of the recycled water system. It is anticipated that the City would gradually develop a recycled water system to meet the objectives of identified recycled water demands.

The above statement indicates that the consultants are not aware of any active project in the City of Santa Paula to mitigate chlorides, as described in the 2005 Water Master Plan and which was provided to the LARWQCB in the response to the 2004 DEIR..

2017 Urban Water Qualtiy Master Plan

Millner-Villa repeated the 2011 study in 2017. Read the 2017 study here: Plan

Chlorides are still recognized as an issue. The consultant says this:

The City’s WRF currently produces water that meets Title 22 regulations (California Code of Regulations, 2016), with the exception of elevated chloride levels which should be resolved prior to implementation of the recycled water program. Treated effluent from the WRF is discharged to percolation/evaporation ponds, located adjacent to the plant site.

The 2017 report indicates no project for treating chlorides even though in 2015 the City of Santa Paul announced its buyback program for the salt-based home water softeners. Read about that buyback program here.

2018 Cease and Desist Order (CDO)

In the meantime, since the launch of the plant in 2010, the plant was cited regularly for excess chlorides. The LARWCQB issued a CDO (Cease and Desist Order) in 2018 to which the city was required to submit a chloride mitigation plan.

The Current Plan

The City of Santa Paula has hired another consultant and has submitted a plan consisting of several alternatives to the LAWQCB. Read about that plan here. Will the Water Board weigh in on this plan before the City of Santa Paula spends $1.5 million to determine if the chosen solution is feasible? Will the Council read the history on the plant? Or will this be another expensive planning check box aka “the wastewater shuffle”?

Why is This Chronology Important?

Citizens have an expectation of protection by the various county and state boards. The available paper trail indicates that the substance of the law has been relayed to the City of Santa Paula, but the enforcement of the water quality law appears to have been shuffled from report to report over a period of 15 years.

Who is responsible for enforcement? What can the citizens expect from elected officials and staff? What did the council understand of the project in 2005 as described in the DEIR? With the City of Santa Paula changing staff in the Public Works Director over this period has the issue of water reuse been sidelined due to other budget pressures? Does the city understand that commercialization of the wastewater could be a revenue stream?

Why the silence from other agencies like the County and the United Water Conservation District? The City said in 2004 that “treated wastewater disposed in the percolation ponds would, in effect, remain in the shallow alluvial system and be potentially available by diversion by United Water Conservation District at the Freeman Diversion…”. Can the pathogens in the effluent reach the river and then the Freeman diversion?

At what point does this wastewater plant become another Love Canal with everyone asking “what happened”?

For more information on author click sherylhamlin dot com


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2 Responses to Santa Paula Wastewater: 15 Years of Compliance Inaction

  1. Sheryl Hamlin July 30, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    https://lacsd.org/wastewater/scvchloridecompliance/default.asp

    Interesting that the EIR was challenged and they were forced to provide chloride compliance, while SP got away with a “promise” to comply with chlorides and was never challenged with providing a solution.

    Reply
  2. Edo McGowan July 29, 2019 at 10:23 pm

    Citizens have an expectation of protection by the various county and state boards. The available paper trail indicates that the substance of the law has been relayed to the City of Santa Paula, but the enforcement of the water quality law appears to have been shuffled from report to report over a period of 15 years.

    Citizens have an expectation that the water will be safe, but all it is is “legal.” That is not the same as safe, especially if you consider the pathogens that are getting through and not even being checked. Thus, the tests are faulty and being faulty are dangerous and a threat to public health. But, the bureaucrats are only concerned that the water is “legal.” Caveat emptor.

    Reply

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