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California Water News

A daily compilation of significant news articles and comment


April 8, 2008


4. Water Quality



Water plant funds dry up; Lanare can't afford to keep filtering system running - Fresno Bee



Toxic mill site draws fine; State seeks $3 million from owners of former paper mill - Redding Record Searchlight



Santa Paula weighs two bids on sewage plant - Ventura County Star



No need to fear the water; Linda methane concentration too low for fire - Marysville Appeal Democrat



Legislation seeks to avert another oil spill - San Francisco Chronicle




Water plant funds dry up; Lanare can't afford to keep filtering system running

Fresno Bee – 4/7/08

By Eddie Jimenez, staff writer


LANARE -- A $1.3 million water treatment plant built to filter arsenic sits idle because this southern Fresno County community of 500 people can't afford to run it.


Meanwhile, residents are drinking water that contains unhealthy levels of the substance, which can be poisonous.


The Lanare Community Service District, which provides water service for the community about four miles west of Riverdale, racked up a deficit of $96,000 in the first six months of operation in 2007.


The plant was shut down in midsummer and homes were hooked up again to the community's old pump.


The problem was simple math: Revenues collected for water service -- residents pay a flat fee of $46 a month -- didn't come close to covering the cost of operating the new plant.


A Fresno County grand jury report released this year outlined a number of other problems. Members of the district's board of directors had tripled their salaries, funds were misused, and some board members could not read or write.


The report prompted one Fresno County official to say the troubled district should be taken over by a court-appointed administrator.


District officials dispute parts of the report but acknowledge most of the findings.


The Rev. E.P. Davis, a past member of the service district board, said he knew early on that the district's new water-treatment plant was in trouble. The filtered water was being used not only by homes but also for livestock and irrigation, he said. Customers paid the same, no matter how much water they used.


Garden hoses and meters


The district also was missing revenue because some customers were sharing their water with three or four other families through garden hose connections, Davis said.


Ken Souza, a business consultant who stepped in as general manager of the service district in August, said some customers are taking advantage of the flat monthly rate and using a lot of water.


"It can't be controlled without water meters," he said. "In hindsight, the water plant should not have been put into place without meters."


It will take some time, even after the district installs meters, to accumulate consumption and cost data in order to set rates based on usage, Souza said.


Meters are crucial for the community to once again be able to use the water-treatment plant, Souza said.


"The usage should go down, my PG&E bill will go down and I will collect the money from the larger water users," Souza said.


Souza said he is optimistic that the district will win a federal grant to pay for meters, which could be installed during the first half of 2009.


That's a start to get water consumption under control, Souza said.


But the community also needs to attract more water customers to help cover the cost of running the plant, he said.


Insufficient revenue was only part of the problem, however. District board members apparently did not understand how much it would cost to operate the water treatment plant, Davis said.


The engineer for the water-treatment plant project, Boyle Engineering of Fresno, based its calculations on 200 water hook-ups -- a number provided by the district. Instead, there were 149 customers.


When asked whether the board had discussed potential costs to operate the system, Polly White, a board member for nearly two decades, said, "I don't know anything about it."


Unpaid bills pile up


California Water Services of Coalinga, the plant's operator, shut down the water-treatment system in mid-summer 2007 because the district already owed the company $47,000.


The district faced other unpaid bills. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was ready to shut off power to the district for pumping before a deal was made to pay off its mounting bill, Souza said.


Before starting up the new water-treatment plant in January 2007, the Lanare district had no deficit, he said.

For now, residents have to choose between using water that does not meet federal health standards and buying bottled water for cooking and drinking.


Resident Pat Johnson, 42, who was born and raised in the community, worries about his 4-month-old daughter and has opted to buy bottled water.


"I don't want her drinking that water," he said.


But many residents who cannot afford bottled water are drinking from the tap, said Jessie Reyes, the district's board president.


Long-term exposure to arsenic, a naturally occurring mineral, has been linked to cancer, thickening and discoloration of the skin, nausea, numbness, paralysis and blindness, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


More stringent federal water standards for arsenic prompted Lanare service district officials to seek grant money to pay for the water-treatment plant.


In January 2006, the EPA lowered the arsenic standard for acceptable drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion -- a level that Lanare met with its new treatment plant. A return to the old pump means the community's water is not in compliance. The last reading of the arsenic level in the district's water 10 months ago was 30 parts per billion, Souza said.


But board member White said she's not worried about the community's water quality.


"I've been here 50 years and I don't have no complaints about the water and I raised all my kids here," she said.


Souza wonders whether the Lanare water district should have been given the grants without some guidance on running costs -- though he admits he's not sure where that help should have come from.


A county official said her department merely administers the federal Community Development Block Grants, which paid for the Lanare water treatment plant.


Gigi Gibbs, Fresno County's community development manager for public works and planning, said her department has no authority over districts such as Lanare.


She said Souza is essentially saying, "Someone should have taken care of us. We should have never applied.

"The district needs to take some responsibility," she said.


But at least one board member was aware of problems and trying to straighten them out. By mid-2007, then-board member Davis had learned that some single-customer water hookups had as many as four families drawing water.


But then Davis became ill, derailing his efforts.


Souza later discovered that only about 60% of the water customers were paying their bills, which added to the district's financial woes.


So he began shutting off water to those behind in their bills.


Meetings lack minutes


The district's finances also were hampered by a lack of minutes of past meetings and poor financial record-keeping, he said.


Failing to keep minutes, which violates state open-meetings laws, was one of a number of issues raised in the grand jury report.


As for the misuse of funds allegation in the report, Souza said, a Community Development Block Grant payment of $26,000 intended for the builder of the water-treatment plant was commingled with general funds to pay off other bills.


"We acknowledge that was the case and it shouldn't have happened," he said.


Board members did raise their pay per meeting from $25 to $75, which Eddie Nolan, a volunteer consultant to the water district, says is nominal. "Like that's really going to kill the budget," he said.  #




Toxic mill site draws fine; State seeks $3 million from owners of former paper mill

Redding Record Searchlight – 4/8/08

By Dylan Darling, staff writer


State water quality officials have issued a record $3 million fine to the owners of the former Shasta Paper Company mill site in Anderson.


The fine followed Winemucca Trading Company's failure to clean up the toxic sludge lingering in wastewater ponds, said Jim Pedri, assistant executive officer for the Central Valley Water Board.


"They basically didn't do what we asked," he said.


The fine is the largest ever issued by the Water Board's Redding office, he said.


The complaint, filed late last month, says Winemucca, which is based in Incline Village, Nev., failed to clean up accumulated contaminated wastes at the defunct Shasta Paper Mill. The mill last turned pulp to paper in 2001


Earlier complaints had ordered the company to clean up the site by Oct. 1, 2006.


"Every day you don't do something you get thousands of dollars of penalty," he said.


Jeff Scharff, a Sacramento attorney for Winemucca, did not return a pair of voice messages left Monday.


For more than 20 years, Simpson Paper Company ran the mill before selling it to Shasta Paper Company in the late 1990s, Pedri said. After the sale the water board issued an order to Shasta Paper to clean up hazardous wastes — thousands of gallons of dioxin-tainted sludge at the mill.


Shasta Paper went bankrupt in 2001 and closed the mill, putting 400 employees out of work.


Winemucca bought the mill and adjoining industrial wastewater lagoons at a May 2004 public auction. In October that year the water board issued an order for the company to create a plan to clean up the site and have the work done in two years.


“It’s just sitting there, but it’s got to go,” Pedri said.


Although he doesn’t think dioxin is getting into ground water, studies are needed to determine the extent of the contamination, he said.


Pedri said the board is concerned that Winemucca isn’t planning to clean up the site, but has plans to divide it and sell off the unpolluted parcels, leaving the polluted land for the state to deal with. Cost of cleaning up the dioxin, a known carcinogen in even trace amounts, was tagged at $2.8 million a couple of years ago.


The $3 million fine should cover the cost of a state cleanup if Winemucca doesn’t do it, Pedri said.


One of the hundreds who lost jobs seven years ago, Sam Piearcy, who was president of the Papermakers Union Local 1101, said he’d figured that such a fine was in the making.


Since the mill shut down he said he hasn’t seen much activity there.


“I’m surprised it’s taken this long,” he said. #




Santa Paula weighs two bids on sewage plant

Ventura County Star – 4/8/08

By Kathleen Wilson, staff writer


With deadlines looming over discharges into the Santa Clara River, the Santa Paula City Council on Monday weighed whether to pick a multinational French company to build its sewer plant or a Costa Mesa competitor that insisted it offered a safer deal.


City staff have recommended the council choose Veolia Water, which has been called the largest private water company in the world. The other company they evaluated is PERC, which has offices in Arizona and California. Both made presentations before the council Monday night.


A financing representative for PERC said its proposal was stronger in part because of the financing. "In considering a 30-year relationship, it's important that you know who your partner is," said Philip W. Dyk, a partner in Alinda Capital Partners, which would fund PERC's project.


But Robert Ashfield, a vice president of Veolia's North America-West Division, said Veolia offers years of expertise in building this type of plant. "We stand by our proposal," he said. "We are ready to go to work for the city of Santa Paula."


City officials cast the decision as critical. The winning contractor will be responsible for the design, construction, operation and financing of the city's largest public works project in recent history.


"It is probably one of the biggest decisions that the Santa Paula City Council in the last 50 years has had to make," Mayor Bob Gonzales said.


Critics said Santa Paula should choose PERC, which is offering guaranteed financing. Veolia has offered to secure a loan, but is not locking in the interest rate as part of the deal.


"The numbers don't add up," Gayle Washburn, a controlled growth proponent in neighboring Fillmore, said in a brief interview. "It will end up costing the city of Santa Paula more. Who knows what will happen if we get an inflationary period."


Under a settlement with the state Attorney General's Office, the $58 million facility must be completed by September 2010 and meet federal pollution standards by the end of that year.


Under terms of that deal, the council must approve a design by April 15 and construction must begin by July 15.


The new facility, planned for a site near the existing plant which lies south of Highway 126 on the city's western edge, would replace a 1939 plant that discharges treated effluent into the river.


Although its technology has been upgraded over the years, the existing plant is incapable of meeting federal clean water standards and sometimes emits foul odors.


Santa Clara is the only large river still in a mostly natural state left in Southern California. Environmentalists say the new plant and one being built upstream in Fillmore will boost water quality in the lower part of the 100-mile river.


"They will help immensely," said Ron Bottorff, chairman of the Friends of the Santa Clara River.


At issue in Monday night's decision was whether the city should take the risk of handling the financing so that it could negotiate better terms later.


Veolia guaranteed the construction and operating costs and is working with Morgan Stanley on a construction loan, city officials said.


PERC guaranteed the entire package in a competing offer.


But at nearly $170 million, the cost of repayment over 30 years would be $20 million higher than the Veolia deal, a city analysis showed.


Cliff Finley, the city's project manager, said PERC is taking all the risk and wants the rewards.


"It's known and you sign it and you're done," he said. "That's a good thing, but who is to say that 15 years from now, the city may want to refinance the loan."


PERC President Brian Cullen said the city analysis was flawed. He said the company's investors are open to alternative financing in the future, contrary to the conclusions of the report.


"There is definitely flexibility without a doubt," he said.


When the new plant is operating, wastewater will no longer go into the river.


Officials say the wastewater will be highly treated, then percolated through the ground to recharge the water supply in the Santa Paula Basin. It may also be recycled for irrigation, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said. #




No need to fear the water; Linda methane concentration too low for fire

Marysville Appeal Democrat – 4/7/08


Yuba County authorities on Monday began trying to tamp down residents' concerns at the Linda mobile home park where tests have revealed methane gas in the water supply.


Officials with the county Environmental Health Department tried to reassure about 35 people at Castlewood Mobile Home Park they could continue to use their tap water, despite tests Wednesday that showed trace amounts of the potentially flammable gas in the park's well system.


"The air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink," Tejinder S. Maan, county environmental health director, said during the 45-minute forum.


The issue came to light when county and state environmental officials measured levels of the colorless, odorless gas up to 1.3 percent when running showers or sinks at the park for up to 12 minutes at a time. Tests of tap water in a jug produced levels of 20 percent — above the 5-to-15 percent where the gas becomes combustible. Levels above 15 percent can cause asphyxiation in a sealed, poorly ventilated space.


But Paul W. Donoho, a county environmental supervisor, called the risks to homeowners largely theoretical, saying dangerous amounts of the gas could build up only if the water were run for several hours and all the windows shut. Otherwise, he said, ventilation and normal plumbing use will quickly dissipate the methane before it can build up in amounts large enough to ignite.


Castlewood's owner, Western Management Services, will be required to correct the methane problem but will be allowed to choose the method, officials said. The owner could install an aerator or scrubber to release the gas from the well water, or could connect the park to the Linda County Water District — a step that would require nearly a half-mile pipe connection and cost about $500,000.


"This is a first," Donoho conceded. "We have no idea what the costs will be."


Castlewood's residents have often complained about poor-tasting water caused by minerals, but rarely worried about gases, said Lois Kerwin, who attended the meeting. Still, she was open to paying her share for steps to solve the methane problem without taking the costlier step of switching to district water — and possibly making the park too costly to run.


"I wouldn't mind paying it in my rent, if it was a choice between paying for an upgrade and the owner closing the park," said Kerwin, who moved to the park three years ago.


Another Castlewood resident, Jeremiah Westman, was more skeptical. With no clear cost estimate for controlling the methane and no timetable for a fix, he worried the problem might languish unless a fire or accident strikes one of the homes.


"The issue needs to be resolved, but I don't think it'll be as fast as people think," he said.#




Legislation seeks to avert another oil spill

San Francisco Chronicle – 4/8/08

By Matthew Yi, staff writer


A package of bills that seeks to make improvements in preventing and responding to oil spills such as last year's Cosco Busan cargo ship accident in San Francisco Bay passed a legislative committee Monday.


The seven measures approved by the Assembly Natural Resources committee are part of a nine-bill package put together mostly by Democratic legislators from the Bay Area in the aftermath of the spill on a foggy morning in November.


The ship struck one of the Bay Bridge towers, gushing nearly 54,000 gallons of fuel into the bay, fouling beaches in the region and killing more than 2,000 birds.


State and federal officials have faced sharp criticism over their response to the spill, including the initial inaccurate assessment of the size of the spill and the inability to quickly use an army of volunteers who wanted to help in the cleanup efforts.


The accident also prompted state lawmakers to hold a series of public hearings to scrutinize the accident response, and Monday's package of bills was a result of those meetings, said Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee.


"By crafting this series of bills, we hope to prevent this from ever happening again, and if there was another accident, it would enable us to respond more effectively ... and also enable us to restore our ecosystem," she said.


The seven bills heard in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee were:


-- AB2031, which would require the office of the Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) to provide grants that allow local emergency officials to train and certify volunteers to help in cleanup efforts.


-- AB2032, which would increase the Oil Spill Response Trust Fund from $55 million to $100 million by imposing a 25 cent fee on each barrel of oil produced in or imported into California. The fund is for oil spill cleanup when it's unclear who is liable. The bill would also increase insurance requirements for the ships with large fuel tanks.


-- AB2547, which would require OSPR to look for latest technologies in oil spill prevention, containment and cleanup, and set aside $5 million of grant money each year for such development.


-- AB2911, which seeks to improve recovery of wildlife affected by an oil spill by developing training programs for local officials and volunteers.


-- AB2912, which would require OSPR to oversee oil spills in inland waters and would also make penalties for such spills the same as those in marine waters.


-- AB2441, which would require tugboat escorts for all vessels transporting hazardous materials in California's harbors.


-- AB2935, which would require the Department of Fish and Game to shut commercial and recreational fishing within 24 hours of an oil spill, determine within 48 hours whether to allow fishing or prolong the ban, and test fish and shellfish in the affected area within seven days.


The Assembly committee passed the bills largely with support from Democratic lawmakers. Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the author of AB2547, said state officials failed to adequately contain the Cosco Busan spill in the hours after the accident.


Turning away scores of volunteers in the days after the disaster was also a big mistake, said Hancock, author of AB2031 and AB2032.


"I experienced this first-hand," she said. "When I went to volunteer ... I saw myself and hundreds of people being turned away until training was provided by the state and that training wasn't provided for a week. That was totally unnecessary." #



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