Thursday, October 30, 2008

Addendum to previous posting:
Added note to the recent PZLDF hearing: according to a knowledgeable source, the challenges raised in the case still remain in play, the 1085 issue is gone, but still o.k. on the Administrative Mandamus issue, and the CEQA issue will be amended. So, stay tuned.


Watershed Mark said...

-----Original Message-----
From: Dan Wickham []
Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008 11:13 PM
To: Onsite/decentralized wastewater management issues
Subject: RE: Re:[decentralized] Los Osos alternatives -- sewers only

I had the unfortunate experience of becoming tied up in the Los Osos fiasco for somewhat over a year. If ever anyone wants to see a complete disintegration of society, this community serves as a model. It is not that the people of Los Osos aren't good citizens, they are. They were subject, however, to one of the grossest perversion of regulatory oversight that I have ever seen.

Early in the 1980's they noticed some nitrate contamination in their drinking water aquifer. They went to a deeper aquifer to get around that issue, but in the process it became clear that they were starting to get salt water intrusion into that aquifer. The community came together and created a CSD with the intent of developing a sewer and treatment system for the community. The early citizenry were looking towards an Oswald type pond system that could be located at the periphery of the community.

They were not that concerned about what the collection system might be but they were open to STEP/STEG systems that could have taken advantage of the many septic tanks already installed.

Somehow a large engineering firm insinuated itself into the design process, and by the time the CSD was ready to implement the system, with state and federal loans, one of the nations major "large pipe" engineering firms had taken over. Voila, a centralized gravity sewer, to be constructed in pure sand, was going to take all the water to a beautiful park in the center of town, whose basis was a hundred million dollar MBR system.

The community, all being members of the CSD, rebelled when they saw that they were facing tens of thousands of dollars for hookup and over $2,000 per year in sewer charges. The community voted out the board of the CSD, that had gotten them into this fix, and nixed the whole project.

To get a history of this project you would have to read through tens of thousands of pages of blogs, newspaper accounts, regulatory documents, etc.

Our company got involved just after a new CSD board decided to look at alternative, possibly decentralized options. We installed a test system in the community that worked well. The problem, however, was that the regional Water Quality Control Board had placed a ban on any option that contributed any measureable nitrogen. In effect they condemned the entire community and also made it impossible for any system to be installed that was not the original mega-pipe system that the large engineering company had designed.

To show how serious the Regional Board was, they said either the community come on board, in effect negating their earlier ouster of the CSD board that had stuck the community with an absurd design, or they would come after them. During this period I got embroiled with community meetings that made it clear that the citizens were in a state of panic. They could not sell their houses, they could not improve their properties, they were in a perfect state of limbo and had no idea how to resolve it.

The Regional Board finally came down with an issuance of about 50, it may have been 48, I can't remember, Cease and Desist orders for a "randomly selected" group of homeowners in the commuity. They demanded that the owners of these properties would have to pump their septic tanks every two months until a sewer was constructed. What the regional board was attempting to do was to browbeat the community into votin back in a board that would be compliant to their will.

I was called as an expert witness to the hearing in which these orders were to be enforced. The regional board had their "prosecution team" in place, never mind that these were simply staff members with only one attorney involve, and certainly not with any prosecutorial authority. The Board sat in judgement, just like actual judges, even if they were only used car salesmen in their real life. This was the ultimate Kangaroo court. The hearing had gone on for about 4 hours before I even got there. The "court" issuing innumerable judgements on what could or could not be introduced as evidence.

The staff of the Board went through a prolonged discussion of the randomization model used to select the homeowners that were cited, in an ironic attempt to show that no one was singled out. Of course, one might also note that they were perfect in their ability to insure that no one cited actually was shown to be actually in violation. Their argument was that everyone in the community was automatically in violation since it was illegal to discharge any waste into the aquifer, pursuant to a decision in 1983, never mind that this decision had not been enforced for twenty years.

My expert testimony was pretty simple. I noted that pumping the septic tanks every two months would destroy any anaerobic treatment in the tanks and would therefore accelerate the degradation of the leach systems that were, in fact, the only treatment that was currently in place. The hearing very quickly went south and nothing happened. Not one single homeowner had a chance to even testify over the course of about 10 hours of hearings, so it did not look like they would ever get through all 50.

Not long there after our company, along with Pio Lombardi's company, and Ripley Engineering submitted new designs, all more decentralized in nature. Ripley was chosen and I lost interest.

The utter disregard for the law displayed by the Regional Board convinced me that Los Osos is a tar baby that anyone who touches will be enmired in. George T. is an old friend of mine and I hope he is not besmirched by his association. Any recommendation he might make is simply to move this community into something that might be better than what they currently have. However, one thing I pointed out in my testimony was that the community sits adjacent to an ancient salt marsh that is in shifting sands. The sand spit outside Los Osos grows marsh vegetation which is buried by sands and contributes to the same formations that make Santa Barbara an oily beach. As a consequence the nitrate they measure may come from fossil deposits that are thousands of years old. I suggested that the board might want to look at isotopic ratios to see if these nitrates are even human in origin. It turned out that researchers had already looked, unbeknowst to the board, and sure enough it might not even be septics that are at fault.

I urge all of you, please do not try to draw meaningful conculsions from an impossible situation in Los Osos. I hope I never get anywhere near that place again, as beautiful as it is.

Dan Wickham

-----Original Message-----
From: Waterguy []
Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008 2:08 PM
To: Onsite/decentralized wastewater management issues
Subject: Re: Re:[decentralized] Los Osos alternatives -- sewers only

I'll begin this by stressing once again that, unlike Mr. Forbes, I have not had the opportunity to visit the community, so again I am not asserting a certain knowledge that any particular approach is THE thing for Los Osos. I have examined the community on Google Earth and by reviewing both the maps and plans and the discussions in a number of reports, and have corresponded with and spoken with several people in the community, so nor am I totally clueless about the conditions there.

I expect that Mr. Forbes' evaluation of the fractious nature of the community is pretty much right on. I observed very early on that the circumstance that an urbanized area with a population of over 10,000 not being incorporated perhaps indicates that a basic issue there is that a sense of community or any investment in community governance structures is lacking.

Regarding the matters that are the subject of this list, implicit in Mr.
Forbes' evaluation the prospects for a "decentralized system" is that the stuff HAS to "go away". While I certainly do not mean to hold him up as the paragon of clear thinking on this matter, Mr. Murphy is so adamant that an entirely on-lot management strategy can be executed that he has instituted a lawsuit to defend that concept, holding that in fact the Clean Water Act requires this approach. Many consider his explicit approach to be a "crackpot" idea, but it does point out that on-lot reuse might indeed merit consideration as a viable part of the overall strategy. That is, there is no "law" that says the stuff has to "go away", that the reclaimed water cannot be managed within the neighborhoods where it is generated. From all appearances, however, the "process" there agrees with Mr. Forbes quick read that any plan must be predicated on making the stuff "go away". Thus, they have essentially thrown the decentralized concept -- the very idea that wastewater is most effectively and efficiently managed by treating and reusing the water as close to where it is generated as practical -- out the window.

Sure, maybe they can't reuse everything produced in each neighborhood in that neighborhood, maybe some of it would have to be moved "away" to be reused elsewhere. But that doesn't make it automatically necessary to take it all "away" to be treated elsewhere, then piping some of it back. It is just easier and cheaper and entails less vulnerability to wheel around reclaimed water than it is to move raw wastewater, or even septic tank effluent. So unless there is simply no merit in distributed reuse as part of the management strategy -- which the reports issued by the planning process there indicate is NOT the case -- it makes at least as much sense to treat it locally, use as much as you can close by and transport the rest as reclaimed water that it does to transport all of it as raw wastewater (or septic tank effluent if a STEG/STEP collection system is used), treat it elsewhere and then pipe some of it back.

But there does not appear to be an understanding and appreciation of the decentralized concept residing within the planning process in Los Osos.
Like Mr. Forbes' quick read of the situation, the "conventional thinking"
prevails. That is what I've observed a lot, an apparent inability -- or at least unwillingness -- to conceptualize outside of convention. Once again, this is not a claim of any knowledge certain about what they "should" be doing in Los Osos, these are just observations on the process under which they determine what they are willing to consider. What those considerations lead to would depend on the evaluation of the various strategies in the circumstances at hand. But you will never, ever implement a decentralized concept strategy unless you can conceptualize it, formulate it for the context, and evaluate it. From all I can gather from afar, that is simply not happening. Almost anywhere.

David Venhuizen, P.E.
Planning and Engineering as if Water and Environmental Values Matter

Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend a hand
For the times they are a-changin'
-- Bob Dylan

----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Forbes"
To: "Onsite/decentralized wastewater management issues"
Sent: Saturday, November 01, 2008 5:47 PM
Subject: Re:[decentralized] Los Osos alternatives -- sewers only

I was recently in California and took a ride through Los Osos. It was
a pleasure trip, so I didn't take notes. My recollection is it was
mostly small houses on small lots on land that slopes towards the
ocean, with open land at the top of the hill. What lots of people who
haven't been there don't realize is how rugged the California coast is.
When you read about the wildfires, the reason they last so long is that
it is practically impossible to get equipment into most of the areas
because of the very steep slopes and narrow valleys with large
elevation differences - often well over 1,000 feet. In Los Osos, once
you have pumped up the hill to the open areas for any reasonable
decentralized system, you have done most of the work to pump to one or more "central" plants.

My impression was that trying to shoehorn in any kind of on-site or
cluster system would be nearly impossible, and getting good compliance
from residents for operation and maintenance would also be very difficult.
I asked a friend who lives nearby what he knew about the project, and
his response was that the people out there love to argue. Basically,
his view was that if you took a poll about whether the sun rose in the
east, 30% would say yes, 30% would say no, and 40% would have no
opinion other than that both the other groups were wrong.

Watershed Mark said...

-----Original Message-----
From: bill.carpenter.jr []
Sent: Monday, November 03, 2008 8:25 AM
To: Onsite/decentralized wastewater management issues
Cc: 'Tam M. Doduc'
Subject: RE: Re:[decentralized] Los Osos alternatives -- sewers only: California Regional Water Quality Control Boards


Which Regional Board was involved, and who from the regional board was involved in this effort? It is time to expose these people and seriously work to change this system in California.

Many of these Boards in California act with impunity, and with no modern scientific basis for their decisions-- to the detriment of the community. It is time to mobilize a grass-roots effort to put an end to this horrendous system.

I invite anyone (especially lawyers and lobbyists) to contact me off-line to discuss the options of how to organize and mobilize to make the drastic changes necessary to (or to abolish) the California Regional Board system.


California Assemblyman Ted Gaines
California Senator Dave Cox
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Watershed Mark said...

-----Original Message-----
From: Dan Wickham []
Sent: Monday, November 03, 2008 8:29 AM
To: Onsite/decentralized wastewater management issues
Subject: RE: Re:[decentralized] Los Osos alternatives -- sewers only: California Regional Water Quality Control Boards

The regional board in question is the Central Coast Board and the executive director is one Roger Briggs. It is Briggs who pretty much turned this incident into a vendetta against the community.


Watershed Mark said...

-----Original Message-----
From: Tonning, Barry []
Sent: Monday, November 03, 2008 8:48 AM
To: Onsite/decentralized wastewater management issues
Subject: [decentralized] Listserve Protocols


While I'm sure everyone has appreciated the discussions regarding this
very interesting, challenging, and remarkable case study, I am obliged
to remind the listserve members that the purpose of this forum is to
discuss and promote the management of decentralized wastewater treatment

I appreciate the request below to further discuss any efforts to
"organize and mobilize" people for other purposes to occur off this
list. Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Barry Tonning
Listserve Manager

Sewertoons said...

Dr. Wickham's history is a tad out of order.

The CSD site was to be in-town at the inception, (the last County project was out of town). Step/steg was to be the collection system, as it was supposed to be cheaper. (Turned out not to be.)

W says,"Somehow a large engineering firm insinuated itself into the design process…" No - that came after the Water Board tuned down the ponds as not having a long enough history of proven clean-up to the degree it needed to be cleaned up, and also, the project could no longer just sewer part of the town as originally thought (a rejected County project had been proposed on that foundation) - the Water Board said, No, the entire Zone had to be sewered.

The gravity sewer then came into being. The project needed to keep the water in the basin and it needed to be a compact project to do that. The project protected the community from expansion as it could only accommodate build-out numbers, no more.

No. W says, "The community, all being members of the CSD, rebelled when they saw that they were facing tens of thousands of dollars for hookup and over $2,000 per year in sewer charges." No, no no.

The Community was sold a bill of goods - out-of-town for $100. Not looking beyond the surface of that, it looked pretty good. Especially as the promises included "You won't be fined, and we'll keep the SRF loan." Even at that, the Directors were barely recalled and Measure B only won by 20 votes.

W says, "The problem, however, was that the regional Water Quality Control Board had placed a ban on any option that contributed any measureable nitrogen" NO! It had to be tested over a long period of time and meet or go below 7mg/l. That is not unmeasurable.

I am afraid that Dr. W was sold on having a shot at Los Osos with promises by none other than Al. When we of the Emergency Services Committee voted to remove the Pirana from the Fire Station, it was because the CSD was paying for all of the testing and it was expensive! Dr. W was getting the free ride that Tom Murphy would have liked. Test were inconclusive and we sure don't have 10 years to wait. It would have helped if those 10 years of verifiable tests had come WITH the Pirana, but like Murphy's Wrecklamator, they didn't.

Watershed Mark said...


It appears you agree then with Bill Carpenter as you did not have any stupid comments regarding his statements, like:

"Many of these Boards in California act with impunity, and with no modern scientific basis for their decisions-- to the detriment of the community. It is time to mobilize a grass-roots effort to put an end to this horrendous system."

Sewertoons said...

Gee, do you think in our case with 8-10 homes per acre - (where 1 acre per septic in normal cases is the agreed ratio expected to do the job), that maybe we DON'T NEED some direct report with thousands of lysimeters collecting data over many year$$$$ - maybe this is just a no-brainer? No direct scientific basis perhaps - but finding drug and body care residues in our upper aquifer, combined with this density clearly makes the case that WE ARE POLLUTING.

I cannot comment on other areas' experiences with Water Boards, but in our case, I agree with the the Water Board's decision. I only disagree in that they should have acted sooner. It is quite obvious that with no direct pressure from them, Los Osos would do nothing - except to continue to pollute.

Hope that clears up my viewpoint for you.

Watershed Mark said...

Are you suggesting that government will act in a fiscally responsible manner?

Sewertoons said...

Depends on who is in charge. The last 8 years have been a disaster.