Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Reclamator Saga Continues, BOS Meets, Dr. T May Be Mentioned, Yes, It's The Tuesday Sewer Report In SLOWTown, 2 p.m.

During the Sewer Hour at the BOS meeting, starting at 2 pm today, I received an email that the RWQCB has sent AES/Reclamator folks a letter regarding their system. Personally, I no longer believe anything the RWQCB staff has to say vis a vis evaluating anything "scientifically." Not since sitting through the ACL & CDO hearings. I mean, nobody who knew anything about septic systems and soil and vados zones or anything like that would have ever -- EVER -- dreamed up that cockamamie bi-monthly Mad Pumping Scheme with a straight face. EVER. So, right there, that told me these guys didn't know what the hell they were doing. Unfortunately, they still claim regulatory power to do anything they like, even if they have to make stuff up. So, I'll be interested in what they have to say about the Reclamator technology. And I'll try to keep a straight face. (Especially since there's apparently a problem with Morro Bay's aging, leaking sewer pipes that keeps now popping up on the Royal Rumor Radar. Old, Leaking Sewer Pipes?? Awwww Gaaawwwwwddd, I hope nobody tells Mr. Briggs about this. He'll slap ACLs and CDOs on Morro Bay residents and force them to pump out their toilets every twenty minutes. Oh Dear, stay tuned.)

According to previously posted emails, the matter of having Dr. T and the peer review group vet whatever systems the county ends up with is supposed to be mentioned. It won't be an agenda item, but is supposedly a topic that will be touched upon.

It's a week to go until the Official 218 protest hearing (also scheduled, last I checked, at 2pm. on Oct 23) so if anyone has any issues with the ballots or proceedures, they'd better speak now or forever hold their peace. Also, if they haven't mailed in their ballots, today may the last day to try to mail anything, thought there've been mail delays so your ballot may not get there in time. It would be far safer to hand carry the ballots to the Clerk's office (inside the front doors, across the lobby from the BOS chambers) and deliver them in person. That way you'll be sure they're received.

And the following, a copy from PZLDF, compiled from a variety of citizen-imputs as recommendations to the County (to assure a clean Process) . Lots of good ideas there, and if the 218 passes, constant citizen vigilance will still need to be there to make sure no little micies start jumping up and down on the scale in the dark, boing-boing-boing.

Los Osos Citizens Requests and Recommendations
( to assure a Clean Process)

The Citizens of Los Osos, both inside and outside the Regional Water Board defined “prohibition Zone” are committed to protecting and improving the water quality in Los Osos and assuring ample clean water supplies in the future;

The Los Osos Community Services District has pursued and diligently supported a wastewater solution for the community, and fully cooperated with the County and other agencies to bring a wastewater solution to fruition for the community under difficult circumstances.

The County of San Luis Obispo has assumed responsibility for the Los Osos Wastewater Project as authorized by Assembly Bill 2701 (Blakeslee), which became effective on January 1, 2007. And the County has substantially completed their Project planning efforts and is seeking funding approval in the form of a property assessment.

The request herein acknowledges that the county is under no obligation to assume responsibility for the Los Osos wastewater project, however, the citizens of Los Osos require reasonable assurances that the County will serve the taxpayers and citizens of Los Osos in good faith during the decision process, and after.

The County must at all times exercise the lawful and ethical execution of responsibilities, including due-diligence, providing an open and transparent process, accountability and assurance of prudent fiscal management of resources, and providing measurable and auditable results while exercising respect for the whole community, and to advocate for the community they serve. To this end, the citizens request the following matters are considered and acted upon, and the actions/corrections reported to the community:

Relief from individual enforcement actions: The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has issued enforcement threats and orders against individual homes, and therein contains requirements for the passage of the 218 assessment. The threat of facing a prosecutorial process to collect up to $5000 per day in fines is counterproductive, and meant to coerce the assessment vote. The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has within its purview the ability to vacate the 46 random orders and notices of violation which breach election laws, and undermine a process to implement a wastewater project in Los Osos. The citizens of Los Osos, as the subject of the said enforcement, request that the County, as the representative of the Los Osos Community wastewater project, support and advocate the vacating of the enforcement against individuals.

Provision of a private and secure 218 assessment vote: It is the explicit responsibility of the County to assure a vote free from intimidation and coercion, and can easily do so through exceptions which allow for closed ballots.

Government Code Section 6255(a) provides an exception that applies to all public records and is appropriate and justifiable.
6255 (a) The agency shall justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.

Affordability: “The displacement of just one family diminishes us all”
In a conflict of goals, the process thus far has failed to apply criteria for affordability standards available from the federal and State governments. This has been inappropriately differed or ignored when developing the alternatives analysis. No enforcement zone specific studies have ever been conducted. The project budget was not established, no budget cap has been established, nothing has been fixed to base the cost for financing for the project, or even to provide a spending guide. Without such input the alternative analysis is flawed, and the cost analysis for the engineers report is invalid. Reports that establish the basis for the assessment engineers report are not certified and stamped. In all these areas, The County has been remiss in carrying out their fiduciary responsibilities.

Sustainability: Affordability and sustainability are closely connected. “SRF loans have the potential to influence water and land use practices in both positive and negative ways.” (SWRCB January 2005 Resolution No. 2005-0006), the State Water Board declared “sustainability and environmental resources to be one of its core values.” Direction by the SWRCB on Jan 20, 2005, for the California Water Boards to consider sustainability in all future policies, guidelines, and regulatory actions.

The application of sustainability is a core value of the Los Osos Community, who requested representation for sustainability through out the planning process using specific trimetrics, such as energy consumption, social impacts, and environmental challenges. The community must know the real costs of various collection, treatment, and disposal/reuse plans as they relate to escalating costs of energy use due to fossil fuel depletion, and required green house gas mitigation in 2012 under AB 32-2006. This information must precede approval of the funding and the project .

Environmental Justice: Environmental Justice is defined by California statute as "The fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of all environmental laws, regulations, and policies." The Citizens of Los Osos, regardless of social status, income level, culture, race, age, or enforcement based location, requests the County provide findings that the proposed assessment funding, the plans and project is in conformance with the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) and the Boards, Departments, and Office (BDOs) which state they “….shall accord the highest respect and value to every individual and community, by developing and conducting our public health and environmental protection programs, policies, and activities in a manner that promotes equity and affords fair treatment, accessibility, and protection for all Californians, regardless of race, age, culture, income, or geographic location.”
Respect for the will of the people: The electorate of Los Osos voted in 2005 to recall three directors, after repeated attempts since 2001 to affect changes to the proposed wastewater project, the community rejected the proposed project site, the energy intensive technology, the lack of a complete project (deferred elements) the incomplete costs information, the unnecessarily high cost, the lack of effective water management, and water disposal elements that were inadequate.

Measure B was passed at the same time as the recall by a small margin, but sought to provide all residents a voice in the form of a vote to approve the site , the technology, and cost. AB 2701 acknowledged the importance of the voter’s knowledge of the true and full cost for the project, and well as consideration for lower cost options. The promise has been that the will of the electorate and the spirit of measure B are observed. Therefore, only after the final project approval, based upon a community vote, is it appropriate for the full funding to be secured.

Impartial reviews: Quality control/quality assurance is best achieved through 3rd party impartial panel review. Alternatives must be tested against the core values, and in peer reviews. This should include the recommendations from the SLO Green-Build, Sierra Club, Surf rider Foundation, and other stakeholders.

Peer review should involve site specific and sustainable collection systems that combine the most compatible and innovative solutions while applying current and forward regulatory compliance to ensure water quality and quantity. Full review of the project requires completing an accurate needs assessment, energy modeling and embedded energy analysis, life cycle cost analysis, and a detailed community and region based socio-economic impact analysis. Assembling a non profit team of experts, such as National Water Research Institute (NWRI) will assure impartial reviews.

Incorporate all viable proposals: The CSD has update the required Wastewater Facilities Plan for a project, (Ripley Pacific) which was independently reviewed (NWRI) and validated, and must be included in project selection process.

The best value and lowest cost options can not be discarded because of the bias of a competing consulting firm hired by the County. The duty of the County is to seek out and to provide the community with the very best solution. This includes Private and partnering opportunities (Design-Build) by utilizing Gov code 5956 to ensure water quality and achieve regulatory compliance, ensure competitive pricing to maximize affordability, and ensure technical expertise, and increase operating efficiencies. The County commitment to prepare a design-build selection model based on life cycle costs, which requires third party oversight.

Water management: The Citizens of Los Osos and the CSD has worked diligently toward water quality improvements, pursued establishment and implementation of Water Conservation planning and adjudicated water management plans, and has updated the required Wastewater Facilities Plan for a wastewater project. The County supported policy toward the adjudication of the basin and assistance with water management planning should continue, as well as efforts to obtain prop.84 and prop 50 grants for the Los Osos water recycling and water quality enhancement projects. A County supported policy to establish a priority for build out first, in the long restricted prohibition zone, and meeting overall water supplies through cost sharing project with water purveyors to meet water needs is requested.

Citizens advisory council : The County should avoid the political bias and work through the community service organizations. An advisory council made up of broad cross section of representatives (non-technical) including representation of the business community, the low and fixed income groups, families and minorities.
The groups focus should be on the project’s socio-economic and community impacts, and should assist with applications for funding assistance, affordability studies, special legislation for income based rate discounts, community block grant funding for on-lot costs, and zero percent financing for households that meet fail to meet income affordability criteria. Coordinate USDA grants applications, and special projects to help neighbors, and community outreach.

Avoid conflict of interest and litigious entanglement: A commitment to keep the project independent from the CSD debt is essential. The provisions for a protected vote, assuring a sustainable project is delivered, and providing the necessary financial assistance to members within the community helps provide confidence and support for the County led wastewater project. Existing lawsuits from Taxpayers watch, contractors, and others within the sphere of the bankruptcy protection process must not entangle the County.
Regardless of the governors signing message about the loan default, rectifying the CSD debt is not within the scope or authority of the County.

The concern is that the State Water Board has sought to bypass the legal path through the courts to recover the disputed loan default, and contractor claims in several ways: Enforcement-fine the Los Osos CSD, fine individuals, and bring pressure on the County to mix disputed CSD sewer debt with the new project funding. Any mudding of the new project funding by working behind the scenes, outside the intent of AB 2701 threatens the public trust, and impairs County’s ability to bring a successful project to completion. The County must avoid pitfalls that will add costs and diminish support.


Shark Inlet said...


You wrote: "I no longer believe anything the RWQCB staff has to say vis a vis evaluating anything 'scientifically.' Not since sitting through the ACL & CDO hearings. I mean, nobody who knew anything about septic systems and soil and vados zones or anything like that would have ever -- EVER -- dreamed up that cockamamie bi-monthly Mad Pumping Scheme with a straight face. EVER."

Not being a geologist or the sort who would understand such things well, but being of a scientific nature, I've got to wonder about your conclusion. Is it founded on a thorough and sound analysis of the particulars of the mad pumping scheme and well-understood principals of septics and what happens in them and after the septage leaves the tank and migrates to the groundwater or is your conclusion largely political?

First off, it would be great if you would explain the science to us because if it was clear enough that you feel confident that the RWQCB is full of crap (little jokes every so often are to be encourages), please explain to us who are less well trained than you in such matters because at first glance, I am not sure about the potential impact of bimonthly pumping.

[Perhaps there was science that would back up pumping even more regularly but others at the RWQCB softened the blow by lowering the frequency. If you want all RWQCB actions to be entirely based in science, they might ask you to pump every five days because then you won't be adding any nitrates to our groundwater.]

A face-value look at this complex question would suggest that pumping more often might decrease the efficiency of the tank in converting solids into liquids. Tanks will be a bit sludgier, as it were. The conversion of solids into liquids has no impact on the nitrates which are largely from urine. No benefit from pumping on this issue.

On the other hand, if tanks are 1500 gallons and a family of two puts 300 gallons into their tank per day, across 2 months they're adding 18,000 gallons. If 1500 of that is pumped out, there would be approximately 8% lower nitrates entering the soil and possibly the aquifer.

When you consider the question of population density, the pumping scheme makes even more sense. The way nitrates are removed from the septage before it enters the aquifer is that bacterial in the soil near to the surface convert these nitrates into fertilizer that plants can use. The bacteria aren't as plentiful lower in the vadose zone and even if they were down there, few plants have deep root systems.

That being said, the density argument is this ... too many homes on septic per acre tend to produce nitrates more than can be handled by the bacteria, so not enough of the nitrates are converted and then used by plants. If we reduce the nitrate load by 8%, the reduction in nitrates into the groundwater drops more than 8%.

[As a mathematical example, suppose that the bacteria in one acre can convert 250 units of nitrates per day but that the eight homes on that acre produce 500 units. In this case, 250 units enter our aquifer. If the septics are pumped every other month, there will be about an 8% reduction in the nitrates entering the leach field ... it will be about 460. The leach field can still remove 250 per day, leaving only 210 entering the aquifer, a 16% reduction.]

So, based on my face value understanding of the science involved and the working of the soil bacteria in the vadose zone, it would seem that from a purely nitrate point of view (and isn't that the problem here?), the pumping scheme won't hurt anything but will certainly have a benefit.

Could you let me know what, specifically, I got wrong ... because after all, you told us that no one who knows anything would think that such a pumping scheme would benefit our aquifer ... clearly you think my understanding to be flawed. Where did I go wrong?

Shark Inlet said...

On the PZLDF request and recommendations statement ...

There are couple of questionable items.

I think that a large fraction of those who know anything about anything about Los Osos would laugh out loud if they heard that the LOCSD has cooperated fully with various agencies to get a wastewater solution. Good one, Gail! Glad you're finally injecting humor into your press releases.

Saying that we need an "affordable" system is a no-brainer. Favoring an expensive system even though it is "unaffordable" is also a no-brainer. It is a no-brainer because additional delay makes even the "less expensive" systems more expensive than the one deemed "unaffordable". Those who truly care about keeping to a minimum the displacement of families will support the system that can be online the soonest because inflation will be limited and furthermore, as soon as we as a community commit to any particular system we can start looking for grants to help affordabilty. No granting agency will give us any money until we stand up and commit to a solution.

Sustainability is a major issue but I've got to doubt that it is a core value in Los Osos any more than a centrally located recreation facility is a core value. Sure we want something that is good for the environment in the long run ... but let's think this through carefully, people ... stopping TriW causes a 5 year delay in a solution, that's five more years of pollution and saltwater intrusion and the energy cost of providing our community needs will rise because of that delay. Thinking that sustainability is only on the anti-TriW side is simply sloppy thinking.

What the hell is a trimetric? Is it just a two-bit word for metric when used by folks who don't understand that a metric can be expanded to include more than one factor?

I have other comments as well, including on their specious interpretation of the recall and measure B results and "my gosh this is long and rambling", but those should perhaps be saved for another time.

Rick said...

If you voted no just because of the reclamator, you're a lemming. Ann is 100% correct that the RWQCB can whatever the f- it wants, and you're staking a lot on this guy's representations.

Shark Inlet: Your analysis might be correct on a "nitrate only" level as you suggest, but other environmental factors, including air (their is the AQMD as well as the WQCB) would never have approved that scheme.

Mike Green said...

Honestly, I am pretty sure that the real basis for the mad pumping scheme had nothing to do with nitrates.
It was to cause economic damage to the recipient of the action that was about equal to the economic damage that would have occurred had the sewer gone on line.

It would have costs about 200/mo for a sewer and average pumping costs were about 400/ pump (bimonthly thats 200/mo)

Its the money, not the water.
And thats where Ann is spot on! Don't trust the RWQCB, they can and will change the rules to suit themselves, we need to be free of them asap.

Shark Inlet said...


That is a great point ... the massive amount of trucking necessary to achieve that amount of pumping would certainly increase PM10, something the air quality folks would find unacceptable.

However, that was not the point Ann raised. Her point was only about the septics and soil. I will believe she is wrong until she explains her logic which appears incorrect at face value. Presumably I am very wrong and she is the scientist between us ... but as someone with some training in science I tend to be skeptical of claims that appear incredible.

On the reclamator .... I say that they should be included in the mix that the County will be evaluating, along with a design-build option. Let the project that is the best package in terms of cost, science and site win out. If the reclamator folks are encouraging a "no" vote on 218, they are meddling where they should not be. Contractors should deal with the County at this stage. If the 218 vote fails, the reclamator folks would presumably deal with the LOCSD.

Mike Green, I'll partially agree with you about the pumping scheme ... I think that the idea was a combination of the idea that they could get some reduction in nitrates combined with the idea that the cost of such a pumping scheme would be comparable to the cost of a sewer. Not a punishment as much as a way of getting folks to stop thinking that continued pollution has no cost. Heck, if you were paying $200/month already for pumping, you would probably be a bit more anxious to get a sewer online if you were paying nothing per month. But that's just my theory ... presumably we would need to be named Briggs or Packard or Marks or Thompson to know what exactly their motivation was.

Mike Green said...

Sharkey, of course I'm right, thank you!

There is no other scenario that is logical.

I do wonder about your definition of "punishment"
Singling out 45 for individual experimentation was to my mind "punishing the whipping boy"
A highly illogical and fruitless endeavor that ignored due process and the American way.
If they had come against every one of us equally, that may have been a different story.
I'm with Ann here, I don't trust them one bit.
Political beuroweasels I say.
Let the county fight them.

Shark Inlet said...

Mike Green,

I always thought the 45 randomly selected lucky folks were just the first 45 thru the process. In other words, should things go rather poorly from the point of view of the RWQCB, the 45 will face CDOs or CAOs or whatever just a few months before the rest of the PZ. Really not that much difference.

What really galls me is the other issue I brought up. How come Monarch Grove pays a higher fine per gallon of "polluted" water than does the city of SLO or CMC and how come those groups pay more per gallon than those in the PZ?

If I were the RWQCB, I would try something like the following fine scheme (perhaps in conjunction with some sort of required septic maintenance program) ... starting now, property owners pay $10/month for not having a sewer online by now (after all, TriW was to be online by now, so essentially we're polluting needlessly). Next year, $20/month. The year after that, $40/month and the year after that $80 and the year after that $160. Such increasing fines over time will cause folks in this town to take the matter really seriously. Also, all that money that is raised by such fines could go into a coffer which could then be used to pay for the sewer costs of those who truly need help due to poverty or low and fixed incomes.

Mike Green said...

Sharkey,your gall is the lesson!
The Water Gods apply punishment at their pleasure!
Monarch Grove (motto.. neener neener we got a sewer) Got punished because they are in L.O. plain and simple.
Trust them? I trust them to screw things up, I'm seldom disappointed.

Shark Inlet said...

Mike Green,

A buddy of mine is on the Monarch Grove HOA Board and he thinks they're likely to tie into the County sewer just because ... even while expensive ... it is still better than having the liability of running your own plant.

I also agree with you that Monarch got hosed because they're in Los Osos. I think the RWQCB was trying to send a message to the rest of town. It seemed a bit vindictive to me.

On the other hand, I can also see things from the point of view of the RWQCB.

The current crew fighting the RWQCB (the LOCSD and PZLDF and the general group of folks who were once "no sewer" and then were "move the sewer" and now are opposed to the 218 vote) are saying the same things that the RWQCB was hearing some 20 years ago from folks then who didn't want a sewer or only wanted one if it were free.

Don't you think that the image of Los Osos presented by Lisa, Julie and Gail is one that tempts the RWQCB to say to themselves "we've had enough of this legal maneuvering to delay for the last 20 years ... let's show them that we mean business!"?

Churadogs said...

Inlet sez:"Could you let me know what, specifically, I got wrong ... because after all, you told us that no one who knows anything would think that such a pumping scheme would benefit our aquifer ... clearly you think my understanding to be flawed. Where did I go wrong?"

I'd suggest you get the tape of Dr. Wickham's testimony in the original ACL hearing. It gets especially inbteresting when Dr. Press (on the Board) catches on to what Dr. Wickam's saying. You can see that he gets it. Also, please note in that hearing, I believe, Matt Thompson making a statment that all the nitrates go directly to the groundwater. Apparently he didn't read the county's own lysometer testing on three properties (I believe it's the Black & Beach report? Percy Garcia, now retired, ran it under the BOS Director Laurent,) wherein it was the first study of its kind and surprise! it found that denitrification actually does take place, even, wierdly, in standing water, results that surprised the engineers at the time since this was new data. Why didn't Matt Thompson know about that report? It's parked in the county and he is touted as being the RWQCB's staff septic go-to guy.

No, that mad pumping scheme made no sense except as a political hammer, which means you've got a regulatory board willing to pervert "science" for political reasons. (Also, forgot to add, that it was clear from the RWQCB's lawyer, when questioning Wickham, that they were unaware that there were intank systems out there that could help improve leach field processing and hence reduce final nitrates to a degree that would have helped mitigate the nitrate amounts, which is what the mad pumping scheme was al about, until a "final solution" was finished, and, according to Wickham, those could be installed for less money than the mad scheme would cost.

Sorry, but that loony scheme really gave the game away and I see no reason to trust that Board or staff. And, as Rick, above, notes: Shark Inlet: "Your analysis might be correct on a "nitrate only" level as you suggest, but other environmental factors, including air (their is the AQMD as well as the WQCB) would never have approved that scheme." The surprise the Board evidenced when the AQMD showed up told me they hadn't thought this thing through. The RUSH on this thing wasn't truly scientific, i.e. let's set in place mitigation, set up a coherent pump, inspect, repair plan under 83-12, examine and coniser in-tank systems as mitigation, etc. Nope, this was a political ploy to coerce a "correct" vote, as one of the Board members stated. Furthermore, you're forgetting the Pandora email to fine the CSD out of existence, and Briggs's reply that he had been working on the ACLs even before the recall was over. That's not science. That's politics. Not good in a regulatory body, Inlet. Not good at all.

Shark Inlet said...


I remember Wickham's testimony. I also remember thinking he was full of crap when he suggested that the nitrates could have been from decaying vegetation and AG runoff. The nitrate numbers of the CSD don't match that theory. I would also hope that the CSD "expert" would have at least reviewed the CSD data before forming a conclusion.

No matter ...

I agree that the RWQCB pumping scheme was motivated largely out of political realities, but your comment that it has no scientific basis is simply incorrect. As I explained in my earlier comment, there would be a reduction of nitrates by the pumping and if the nitrates are too high, even after passing through our magic Los Osos sand, reducing them would be a good thing. That the LOCSD chose not to take the expedient path to that reduction is not the RWQCB fault. They were just trying to kill two birds with one stone ... to get a reduction of the nitrates (even if small by comparison to the reduction that would be achieved by a sewer) and to make people aware that there is a cost to the environment by additional delay. Yes, they wanted to use the pumping scheme to motivate people to action. Certainly (at the time at least) it seems that the post recall LOCSD board that there was no plan and no action that was going to get a sewer online.

As I said before, be careful what you wish for, Ann ... because if the RWQCB was to base all their decisions on science and if they were to ignore the actual costs involved, they could easily justify the removal of all toilets in the PZ and asking us to all use Port-o-Lets instead.

Churadogs said...

Inlet, let me repeat again: "That's not science. That's politics. Not good in a regulatory body, Inlet. Not good at all."

Politics and Regulatory Bodies should not be mixed. When they are, the credibility of the Regulatory Body is permanently damaged. Quick Question: Who in this community will EVER believe anything Roger Briggs says about soil or water or nitrates or anything ever again? That's not a good situation for anybody. (By way of a larger example, consider the EPA changing wording on scientific reports to fit the political theories of Bush & Co. Does such political fudging help or harm the EPA's credibility? Consider the FDA's too cozy relationwhip with drug companies? Help credibility? Harm it? & etc.

Nope, Inlet. NOT GOOD AT ALL

Shark Inlet said...


Any board that has the power to fine or issue CDOs or CAOs cannot base their decisions only on science, the political realities be damned.

If the RWQCB's job is to make choices to get the pollution in Los Osos cleaned up as quickly a possible, they must make decisions that will, necessarily, involve political realities.

That being said, was there something incorrect in my understanding of the possible impact of pumping on the nitrate loading on the aquifer? You've not commented on that issue at all. Certainly the air quality issue is important, but the pumping scheme is not, as you suggest, laughable. If anything, the political decision on the part of the RWQCB was to take the optimal amount of pumping and to reduce it so that the pumping would be more affordable to our community, even if having a lessened impact. Would you rather the RWQCB have ignore the very real costs and had us pumping twice per month instead of every other month?