A Chat with Dr. Wickham
On Wednesday, June 7, there was an informal gathering of interested people on the lawn behind the Los Osos community center to listen to and ask questions of Dr. Wickham, who installed and is testing the onsite Pirana system at the firehouse. He was in town for more testing and sat down for a chat with whoever showed up. (The casual event was taped by several folks so may end up on one of the PEG channels.)
One of the most interesting things to me that Dr. Wickham said was this: Don’t confuse sewers with clean water. They’re not the same thing.
Sounds goofy, but on further reflection, it’s true. Sewers are installed so a town can grow, so you can pack more and more people into a smaller space. By collecting all their wastewater and taking it somewhere else to be treated, you can vastly increase density. And, as such, sewers are a vital part of helping communities grow in size – if they choose that route.
Clean water, on the other hand, is a separate issue. You can have sewers and “unclean” water (i.e. the Morro Bay outfall doesn’t discharge “clean” water by any stretch of the imagination, and the numerous headlines about sewage spills from traditional sewer collection systems point up the danger of “unclean” water going where it shouldn’t.) And depending on the “discharge” numbers allowed (7 mgl nitrates? 10 mgl nitrates?) it’s possible that a sewer plant’s collective “discharge” can end up less clean, for example, than “discharges” from a community using enhanced onsite systems at each house. So, there’s “clean water” and “sewers,” and they’re not necessarily one and the same.
The other issue that I brought up was the 2005 document, available online at the State Water Board, titled, “Role of Science and Engineering in Decision-Making Within The State and Regional Water Boards, Sept 2005,” prepared by William A. Vance, Ph.D. who was a consultant to the SWB. Rather gentle in its text, the list of 30 recommendations were really disturbing. The recommendations make clear that we now have regulatory agencies (Regional control boards) with the power to destroy whole communities but who often make decisions that have little or no science behind them.
One telling example, #1 and # 6: (1) “The state should foster, promote, fund and streamline a process to set up blue ribbon science panels that would provide advice and guidance to the Regional Boards on complex scientific issues . . .” and (6) “The regional boards do not have the resources to allow for peer-review of the technical merit of proposed scientific studies, or for the evaluation of the data or conclusions from such studies. . . .”
The Boards don’t have the resources to allow for peer review . . . .??? This is both alarming and sad.
As it pertains to Los Osos, anyone who attended (or watched) the ACL hearing or the CDO hearing will understand the glaring lack of “science” at work in what our Regional Board’s staff was doing and proposing. In addition, Resolution 83-13, written over 20 years ago, has never been updated to include new technologies that would give more workable options to solving the problem it claims to address – i.e. degradation of the upper aquifer with too many nitrates.
This is a serious lack. Suppose for example, you discovered a problem, went to the proper authorities and said, ”I can fix the problem with a scalpel, a toothpick, and some needle-nosed pliers”. And they replied, “Sorry. You can’t use those. All you can use is this big, clumsy, expensive rock.” A sane person would laugh out loud.
In the case of Los Osos, we’ve been forced to fix a problem that hasn’t really been identified (no nitrate studies done to pinpoint sources, one of the FIRST things a “scientist” would require – know what, where, how much, what kind, before trying to “fix” it, since the what or where may dictate the use of different tools.) and we’ve been forced to use a big, clumsy, expensive rock, i.e. a sewer that pretends to result in zero discharge by the year Whatever, even while being given a permit to discharge X amount of pollution by the very Board that’s dictating zero discharge.
In short, our Regional Board has confused a sewer with clean water. And the result is a gun to the head and one option only: Use the rock or die. It’s exactly the kind of unscientific scenario Dr. Vance’s paper points out must change if we aren’t all going to end up with costly, wasteful blunders all over the state.
It’s something I hope all parties who come to Assemblyman Blakeslee’s table for their “Breakthrough Proposal” confab, will seriously, seriously consider.