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Friday, May 12, 2006

A Dollar Short and Twenty Years Too Late

Oh, Hello, Tribune. Hope you had a nice twenty-year nap? Glad you could join us.

I see in your May 12 editorial, “A wise way for Los Osos to repay itself,” you’re now championing the formation of a septic tank maintenance district. Sez you, “A septic tank maintenance district is long over due for all of Los Osos – including those residents using septics outside the sewer’s zone of prohibition. It’s a fair and equitable approach that makes the whole community responsible for the quality of its water basin.”

Gosh, ya think?

Starting in the 80s, with the RWQCB’s Resolution 83-12, Citizens for an Affordable Wastewater System (CAWS, remember them?) and others repeatedly called upon the County, the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the first CSD board to form just such a district. Oh, and while they were at it, to please enlarge the prohibition zone to include all septics. And if a building moratorium was going to be imposed, slap it on everyone in the watershed. And so forth.

Here’s what the constant reply was, even from regulators who have the words “Water Quality” in their name: NO.

For twenty-some years, it’s been, NO to a septic management district, NO to updating the basin plan, NO to enlarging the prohibition zone (NOTE: Oops, someone who logged on to comment on this blog entry pointed out this muddlement: I meant to say that the original prohibition zone was always scientifically indefensible. Enlarging it was and is the only scientifically sensible thing to do, especially with the State septics rules in the form of AB885 coming down the pike), NO to dealing with the larger issues of water and watershed protection. NO to new technologies. NO to interim mitigation. NO to innovative solutions. NO. NO. NO.

It is a supreme irony that so many citizens of Los Osos were ahead of the curve on this one, yet, despite evidence to the contrary, it was the government agencies responsible who refused to deal proactively with growing problems and instead headed single-mindedly to the train wreck we see today.

Aided and abetted, of course, by the “newspaper of record” that has been asleep at the switch all along.

Well, all I can say is, From the Trib’s lips to God’s ears. Let’s hope the state Legislature is listening?

27 comments:

Sewertoons said...

If all that had only happened back when, can you imagine the howling and teeth gnashing going on about how the big mean old water board is making us do something we don't want to do... after all, septics don't pollute - there is no proof!!

Same old story as now, some different players, a slightly different poop issue...

Anonymous said...

re: May 12; Opinion of the Tribune

In 1978 the RWQCB and SLO County entered into a Memorandom of Understanding for septic maintenance for Los Osos. Nothing was done.
In 1983 the RWQCB required (83-12) it of SLO County. Nothing was done.
The LOCSD was formed in 1998, promising "Faster, Better, Cheaper" that would include septic tank maintenance. Nothing was done.
After a successful recall of the LOCSD Board last fall, and all monies from the sewer related funds were either spent by the "Old Board" or seized by the court, the "New Board" has borrowed $220,000 from its garbage fund, in part, to hire Ensitu Engineering to design and impliment septic tank maintenance in Los Osos, a program that includes those areas "outside the sewer's zone of prohibition."
The "New Board" borrowed $410,000 from its Clean Water Trust Fund to further the out of town sewer project.
This New Board has done more for clean water than the "Old Board" or the County in nearly 30 years, and they've only been in office for a few months.

Churadogs said...

Re the Anon posting above. I rest my case.

Churadogs said...

The Trib's editorial notes that In Situ will present an update on their proposal regarding a Septic Maintenance District at the CSD's office on 9th street on Tuesday, May 16th at 6:30 pm during the regular Wastwater Committe's meeting. I hope everyone who spends time reading this blog and commenting and raising questions etc. will plan on attending. Maybe get some FIRST HAND information rather than just speculating and making stuff up, eh?

Sewertoons said...

The new board spent all their money on lawsuits, so they had to borrow money to pay for anything else - including more lawsuits (they keep losing - you think they'd get a CLUE!).

And what about the money from the SRF fund BEFORE it was frozen??? Where did that go?

Has anyone heard if the accountants were allowed in to do the audit??

How is all these "withdrawals" going to be paid back? Bleskey himself said bonds were not a good risk, not likely to sell (well, DUH!).

And not all the lawsuits were brought on by the opposition, as will not be brought up here.

Funny that Bleskey had no idea where to get money for Ensitu and Ripley until he thought up robbing the Fire Fund. Of course even the board supporters were against that - so now it is coming out of solid waste and water.

Fine. Maybe before they are gone they will do something about septic management. But the damage they are doing by delaying building a WWTF for YEARS cannot be made up for by some late in the day septic management plan.

Shark Inlet said...

Are you sure, Ann, that you're not misrepresenting the RWQCB stand on septic management back then in the 80s?

If some folks came to the RWQCB and said "hey, rather than a sewer, how about septic management?" I am sure the RWQCB would say "no way!".

Honestly, I don't know the details of earlier proposed septic management districts. On the other hand, I suspect the devil is in the details. After all, Julie and Lisa voted against a septic management district pretty recently ... they must have had a reason for opposing it then when they favor it now. Some would say that the only reason they want one now is because they want the cash flow from overcharging people for septic management so that they can take some money off the top to fund their other activities.

Let's not oversimplify things so that we can portray the RWQCB as all bad, all the time when a comparable oversimplification could make Lisa and Julie look bad for the same reason.

Speaking of the Newspaper of record being asleep at the wheel, where were they when the Grand Jury released their findings on the LOCSD/lawyer payoffs?

PublicWorks said...

Ann,

Why do you say enlarging the prohibition zone was scientifically indefensible?

Are you suggesting that a collective area of lower density lots might not pollute any more than a collective area of much higher density lots?

Are you suggesting high peak and average Nitrate levels and the closing of drinking wells that correlate with increased population in the prohibition zone does not constitute scientific data?

Do you believe the average Nitrate loading from septics within the prohibition zone is less than the average Nitrate loading from septics outside it??

Are you suggesting the implementation of a prohibition was NOT dealing with water protection??


Ann says:
"NO to new technologies. NO to interim mitigation. NO to innovative solutions. NO. NO. NO."

NO argument there.

Shark Inlet said...

Ann wants to see a Rhodamine dye study that shows that the nitrates from her toilet are those that are ending up in the aquifer.

Another benefit of such a study is that it would take few years before we have scientific proof that her home is a contributor. On the other hand, even the Rhodamine study could not verify that each and every individual home in the PZ is causing the problem ... simply put, if we find Rhodamine in the aquifer, we don't know which toilet it was from.

Damn ... even then it would not be scientific enough to convince some people that their individual home is a contributor. Maybe this is the wisdom of the PZ which is based essentially on density of homes, distance to groundwater and subterranean geology, all things that we know matter.

Mike Green said...

I've always had the feeling that the reason no septic management plan has ever been implemented is that it just might cause the nitrates in the aquifer to go down.

That might make it prety hard to justify the worlds most expensive (per capita) WWTF.

Wouldn't want to mess that up now would we?

PublicWorks said...

Mike,

It's always been a double-edged sword. There's the thought that since a sewer is just around the corner, why spend money on septics that'll cost people even more money.

Of course, that's why everybody has been doing minimal work on their septic for 20 years.

So since it may be another 20 years before a sewer, it will need to be done in some way or another.

Dogpatch Refugee said...

THE Mike Green Said:
"I've always had the feeling that the reason no septic management plan has ever been implemented is that it just might cause the nitrates in the aquifer to go down.

That might make it prety hard to justify the worlds most expensive (per capita) WWTF.

Wouldn't want to mess that up now would we"
Just So. Edicts must trump reality.

Mike Green said...

Thanks Doggie! shouts to you!

Anonymous said...

Hey,

Did anyone read the Trib blurb on the Waterboard's deadlock on deciding if the Morro Bay/Cayucos sewer discharge permit should be renewed? Looks like Morro Bay are going to be in trouble if the permit is not renewed. After all, if I understand correctly, they are dumping primary treated effluent into the bay right now, and the new plan is to upgrade the sewer plant only to secondary treatment.

Los Osos, on the other hand, is being required to provide a tertiary treatment facility.

Seems to me that the deadlock is probably the result of at least 3 of the waterboard members realizing that they really can't allow Morro Bay to dump crap into the ocean for 8 more years, while dooming Los Osos to the mad septic pumping scheme. Consistency is a bitch.

My personal prediction is that ultimately the whole Cayucos/Morro Bay/Los Osos area will be forced to provide a tertiary treatment facility and this will be completed in about 10 years and will be funded by low interest loans. Also, I predict the LOCSD will remain undissolved, Roger Briggs will join the circus, and TaxPayers Watch will launch a marketing blitz culminating in the filing of a lawsuit against themselves to show the community that when it comes to frivolous lawsuits, no one does it better.

Anonymous said...

Last anon, do you feel better now? It is good therapy to take out ones frustration in a non violent manner. Take a series of deep breaths, recite your mantra a few times, and then get back into the frey!

P.S. check out the grand jury report!

Shark Inlet said...

I would love it if a septic management district would be enacted and I would love it even more if it caused nitrate levels to drop in the aquifer. (Although I don't know how this would be all that helpful because it is the soil, not the septics that reduce nitrates.)

However, the problem in Los Osos is that we have too darn many septic system per acre and most of them are too darn close to groundwater to be safe.

The thing that concerns me most about the TriW sewer is that some (such as Steve Paige) claim that only a small fraction of the nitrates would be removed before discharge of the WWTF effluent. (This I wonder about ... after all, the RWQCB was willing to approve the MBR facility but unwilling to approve of a ponding system because it didn't have a track record of removing nitrates. Ergo, the MBR system must at least be pretty good.)

No matter the case, even if septic management is in place, we will still be putting 365 million gallons of partially treated sewage directly into the ground every year. Maybe if it were one home per acre and we were not so close to groundwateter, but as it is, we really need a sewer and a WWTF.

Sewertoons said...

So Mike, if the septic management plan helps, great, but how will the next, greatest sewage treatment plan be any cheaper? Have you not seen Shark's Excel file?

Cheaper is off the table, and historically, every time a WWTF plan was offered and turned down, the next idea cost more money.

It isn't up to a lesser amount of nitrates to qualify us for a cheaper sewer, it is the up to the realities of the market. "Cheaper" was probably around 15 years ago, and then it was deemed too expensive.

Churadogs said...

Sewertoons said:"And what about the money from the SRF fund BEFORE it was frozen??? Where did that go?"

Part I of the SRF was used to pay for work already done, i.e. huge holes dug at Tri W, pipes madly laid on 17, 18,th st etc. Part II was supposed to pay for work already done as well. The CSD optioned clause 15.something in the contract -- the 90 day no-harm-no-foul stand down --when the State stopped the check, which was in the pipelene as per the contract which was still in force. The contractors are suing to pay for that portion of Part II SRF $ for work completed, plus, as per the contract, the "reasonable termination fees" (not loss of prifit like the paper said, that was specifically NOT in the contract). The judge noted that it appeared the contractors were suing the wrong agency, since it was the State that had witheld the portion of their money for work done. That dispute is in the contractually required "negotiation process" now.

"Has anyone heard if the accountants were allowed in to do the audit?? "

If I'm not mistaken, the judge who ordered the audit has not appointed an auditor, so I guess he's the delay now. The mid-year budget was out at the last CSD meeting and should be at the office for a look-see.



"And not all the lawsuits were brought on by the opposition, as will not be brought up here."

If you check the list of lawsuits still in the pipeline, one is a gender bias suit against the OLD CSD, one, I believe, is still the unresolved Prop 218 vote, (certainly can be viewed as "opposition" to the OLD CSD's policies) but most of the rest have to do with breach of contract, and Taxpayers' Watch & etc., so I think it's fair to characterize those as "opposition." Actually, all lawsuits are "opposition," when you think of it. You don't sue people you're in agreement with.

Publicworks said,"Why do you say enlarging the prohibition zone was scientifically indefensible?"

I hope tht wasn't a typo? What I hopeI said and meant to say is: The original prohibiton zone was scientifically indefensible. Still is. There are homes high on the south hills that are "polluting," while homes sitting next to the creek east of South Bay Blvd, with their leach fields often in boggy water, "aren't polluting?" Please. To my knowledge, nobody has any "scientific" rationale for the lines that were drawn on the map, except for bureaucratic convenience.

Inlet said:"Are you sure, Ann, that you're not misrepresenting the RWQCB stand on septic management back then in the 80s?"

During the ACL hearing, Briggs was asked a long litany of questions along the line of, After after passage of Resolution 83-12 & 13, did you do such and such in 1983? NO, 1984? NO, 1985? NO, and so forth, on and on and on. In short, the RWQCB did NOTHING. CAWS lobbyied the county when it had the responsibility, they pointed the finger at the RWQCB, the RWQCB pointed the finger at the county & etc. Even when the newly elected CSD, which had in hand the RWQCB's report that the Ponds of Avalon wouldn't be approved yet went ahead futzing around with the plan anyway, Briggs did nothing -- no ACL's no CDO's. Asked why, he said he wanted to be helpful to the new CSD. Helpful to a newly elected group who, in defiance of a report already in hand, moved ahead with a plan already disapprove of and he does nothing for years? Hours before the "recall" election is even called, he's preparing ACLs and CDOs. Helpful. Uh-huh.

Dogpatch said:"THE Mike Green Said:
"I've always had the feeling that the reason no septic management plan has ever been implemented is that it just might cause the nitrates in the aquifer to go down.

That might make it prety hard to justify the worlds most expensive (per capita) WWTF."

In theory, RWQCB fines are not supposed to be "punishment." They are, in short supposed to fit the crime. Right now, the state drinking water standard for nitrates, if I'm not mistaken, is 10. The average in our upper aquifers is 10.4. I once asked Rob Miller if a spetic management district plus judicious de-watering would likely drop that .4 to 10 and he said, very likely.

Do the fines presently imposed for the ACL match the pollution crime, ie. the level of nitrates under the firehouse, for example? Do the proposed CDO's match the pollution crime of .4 nitrates past the state level? What I'm looking at here is a regulatory staff & board that's incompetent AND out of control, lacking in good judgement and ability to set sound public policy. (Interesting to compare what's proposed for Morro Bay's sewer plant -- 8 years for a mere upgrade, yet Los osos was expected to start, from scratch, and build an entire sewer system in about 6-7 years (despite delays out of our control) and held to that TSO by the Board even though Bruce Buel finally had to admit, under oath, at the ACL hearing, that the TSO was "unreasonable." No, something is very, very wrong with this picture.

Inlet sez"No matter the case, even if septic management is in place, we will still be putting 365 million gallons of partially treated sewage directly into the ground every year. Maybe if it were one home per acre and we were not so close to groundwateter, but as it is, we really need a sewer and a WWTF."

The State's AB885 will set limits for all septics and as we learn more about in-soil, onsite remediation better onsite systems will come on line. Since the original Resolution 83-13 had to do with an area-wide problem, it's entirely possible that an area-wide solution will also do the trick, i.e. newer onsite systems combined with a partial collection system would reduce the over all load. But to do that in a scientifically defensible manner, the basin plan must be updated and enlarged. One of the problems with the RWQCB's thinking is an either/or -- while they can't tell us what or where to build (bwahahahaha, that's the Hobson's Choice joke of the year)in reality they're the ones pushing for a traditional system and refusing to consider alternatives, even though onsite technologies have come light years. Briggs is still stuck in 1980 and if you listened to their "Mr. Science Guys," you'd know why they're still in the cave. Yikes!


"

Churadogs said...

Thanks, Public works, I went back into the blog entry and added a note. What I meant to say was that the original prohibiton zone was and is scientifically indefensible. Enlarging it is what should have been done years ago with a basin plan/watershed update. Lashes with wet noodles for me!

Anonymous said...

SHARK said..."Julie and Lisa voted against a septic management district pretty recently ... they must have had a reason for opposing it then when they favor it now."

For the Record: Julie and Lisa voted No on Special Legislation that was to give the CSD franchise authority to become, or contract, a pumper...taking good old American competition out of the mix, giving the government machine more muscle and Bruce Bule more power...I agreed at the time and completely agree today...empire building was Buel's MO, period, end of story.
Julie and Lisa support a SSMP because it makes good sense, a healthy septic system will translate to a healthy sewer. They also want a program that addresses both septic inside and outside the PZ...as long as there are septics in LO, there should be a program complete with education and monitoring.

PublicWorks said...

Ann,

Just because loss of profits is not in a contract does not mean one cannot be sued for.

The reason the contractors might consider to sue the state has nothing to do with contracts. It has to do with who has the money! Ever try getting blood out of turnip?

Actually, sometimes you do sue people you are in agreement with. Remember your quotes about the law.

Morro Bay, Morro Bay. Ok, it seems everybody agrees it will take about 6-8 years to do an upgrade. Why did the CSD say they could do a whole plant move and re-design in 2 years? Between the CSD & Briggs, it's no wonder there's a mess.

On the prohibition zone, I disagree Ann. Enlarging the prohibition zone has nothing to do with science. If that were true, then the prohibition zone should be enlarged to include the whole County of San Luis Obispo, or the CC Region District, or the state of California for that matter.

As to the original prohibition zone being scientifically indefensible - it was created using average lot sizes, nitrate readings, population trends, & geology contours. All of those are scientific data. Now, the fact that it was based on a theory, (and a very good one), doesn't make it all that poor of a regulatory decision.

As Ann said, it's simple. In 1983, if I'm a regulator and see high Nitrates, increasing population using rural treatment methods, I have an obligation to act to protect clean water.

If I were to draw up a prohibition zone, I would want to do it based on the boundaries of the CSD, not scientific data, and I would do it for political reasons. Now, we wouldn't want the RWQCB to make politically based decisions, would we?

Enlarging or eliminating the prohibition zone has everything to do with political / regulatory realities, not science. Sometimes it's a good decision to base a decision on political realities to get something accomplished.

Sewertoons said...

So Churadogs, what you are really saying is that we DON'T need a sewer?

Anonymous said...

Why do we need a sewer if a septic management program would do the job for less expense? I think it's a great idea. Whether it ends up being mitigation or not, it's a relatively inexpensive way to clean things up now. We can't go back so let's move forward.

Sewertoons said...

A septic management system will not do the job of a sewer! How will that help when some leach fields are in groundwater? Puh-leeze!!

As to relatively inexpensive, what do you call relatively inexpensive? Mr. Piranha man would sure like to sell a bunch of those Piranha's. But when they all have to get turned off in 3.5 years, that is not inexpensive. I'd rather save my money for a real sewer, thank you.

If anyone else but the present CSD were touting septic management, I would believe that there was a pure motive. With this board, it is just a way to wring money out of us to finance their lawyers, play the ecology card and try to look eco before the water board. As if delaying (read: prevent if possible) a WWTF was eco in the large number of years it will take to build anything, (that is if they are not gone).

Churadogs said...

Public works sez:"If I were to draw up a prohibition zone, I would want to do it based on the boundaries of the CSD, not scientific data, and I would do it for political reasons. Now, we wouldn't want the RWQCB to make politically based decisions, would we?

Enlarging or eliminating the prohibition zone has everything to do with political / regulatory realities, not science. Sometimes it's a good decision to base a decision on political realities to get something accomplished."

You raise an interesting question: If you make a decision on "politics" and end up in a court of law on that decision, does the law allow you to use "politics" or "science" to find someone "guilty." The CDOs raise the issue of individual's being "tried" and found "guilty." Guilty of politics? Or guilty of pollution based on scientific, imperical proof? Which imperical "proof" Briggs has already said he doesn't have. Again, I have to wonder what "real" law will have to say about that.

He also said::"Just because loss of profits is not in a contract does not mean one cannot be sued for."

True, but some folks confuse suing somebody over something as "proof" that they actually have a case, that their chickens have hatched and their claims have been upheld. One of the interesting things being bandied around by Taxpayers' Watch and other dissolvers is the HUGE numbers of what the CSD "owes." As if those numbers were real.

Sewertoons sez: "So Churadogs, what you are really saying is that we DON'T need a sewer?"

I see you're having the same problem reading and understanding what I write as Inlet does.

Sewertoons also said:"A septic management system will not do the job of a sewer! How will that help when some leach fields are in groundwater? Puh-leeze!!"

Actually, the county's year-long lysimiter study on three leachfield sites years ago -- apparently the first ever done ever -- showed -- to very, very surprised county engineers -- that denitrification was taking place, even in standing water.(I believe the study is listed in #27 & 28 of the RWQCB's prosecution document list)The problem was that not enough denitrification was taking place in the test-site's soil columns. (this was years before present-day bio-remediation systems like Dr. Wickham's were even dreampt of. What those numbers would be now with something like a Pirana system will be seen soon when the fire-house numbers start coming in.)

Sewertoons also said:"As to relatively inexpensive, what do you call relatively inexpensive? Mr. Piranha man would sure like to sell a bunch of those Piranha's. But when they all have to get turned off in 3.5 years, that is not inexpensive. I'd rather save my money for a real sewer, thank you."

Compare the Pirana system with the RWQCB's proposed 6 x year pumping scheme and you'll see what he meant by "cheaper." Plus it doesn't destroy your leach fields which would need replacing every couple of years and 2,000 a pop or so. WAaaaaaaaay cheaper. As for the 2 year timeline to build a plant, I hope the CSD and the RWQCB won't fall into the trap they set themselves with Tri W -- the "unreasonable" timeline (TSO) that was the key thing that drove this train off the tracks. I hope to God they learned something from that disasterous mistake, but from the documents from the RWQCB citing 2010 as final hook-up time, I fear they have learned nothing.

Shark Inlet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shark Inlet said...

Ann writes to Publicworks "I see you're having the same problem reading and understanding what I write as Inlet does."

Nope, we're both pretty good readers and both pretty good at figuring out the logical conclusion of your statements. If a person argues for proposition A and if common sense says that A implies B and if the same person argues for proposition C and if the combination of C and B is D, she is essentially arguing for D, even without saying so directly. Connect the dots and you're in favor of higher sewer costs, Ann, because you oppose the TriW plan of the former board. This is true even though you've never said so directly.

Oh yeah ... you may just be in favor of not building a sewer at all.

So, which is it, Ann. Are you in favor of no sewer at all and only onsite solutions or are you in favor of a more expensive sewer?

PublicWorks said...

Shark,

Actually Ann's response was to Sewertoons. You are incorrect.

I would say Ann chooses her words very carefully (I would expect no less from a columnist), and, I suspect, 'deliberately'!