Monday, 15 July 2024

State hits Lakeport with sewer hookup ban

In other words, the city can't issue any more building permits for projects requiring a sewer system connection.

 

Richard Knoll, Lakeport's acting city manager, said he was surprised by the action.


Knoll said the city has been expecting a cease and desist order from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board's Central Valley division for some time.


But they weren't expecting this action, which orders that no new structures may connect to the City of Lakeport Municipal Sewer District (CLMSD) collection system – including all for the city south of 16th Street and county areas in the South Main Street/Soda Bay Road areas – unless building permits for those projects had been issued prior to Jan. 18.


The ban is effective immediately.


Last August Lakeport received a notice of violation from the Water Quality Control Board due to a wastewater issue that arose last April.


Because of the heavy spring rains, Knoll explained, the CLMSD wastewater storage pond began to exceed its capacity.


Mark Brannigan, the city's utilities supervisor, wanted to avoid an overflow situation, said Knoll. So Brannigan had some of the water hauled by truck to the county's sewer system to the north. At the same time, he began disinfecting and chlorinating the water so he could dispose of it through irrigating the CLMSD land, which Knoll said is the city's wastewater disposal method.


Because of the ground's saturation, Knoll explained, the water wasn't absorbed and instead ran off of the CLMSD site. That violated the city's waste discharge agreement with the state, which says the wastewater can't leave that property.


In all, 24 million gallons of chlorinated wastewater was released, with about 15 to 25 percent of that – or 3.5 to 6.5 million gallons – running into a tributary of Clearlake and eventually reaching the lake, Knoll said.


Normally such water would have been placed in a storage reservoir during the winter and then used for irrigation on the CLMSD's 700 acres during the spring and summer, Knoll said.


After the discharge, the city notified the Water Quality Control Board and the county health department, which it is obligated to do in such instances, said Knoll.


The board issued a notice of violation to Lakeport in August, said Knoll, which is the first step in the state's enforcement process.


That notice, he said, required the city to prepare a technical report that analyzed the amount of wastewater flowing into CLMSD's pools, the amount of wastewater disposed of and treated, and the city's sewer plant capacity.


Knoll said that report was completed and submitted by PACE Civil Engineering of Redding, the firm that had designed CLMSD's wastewater plant, and which now is working on the city's sewer master plan.


City staff also met with Water Quality Control Board staff to discuss the situation background and discuss PACE's report, Knoll said.


The good news, said Knoll, is that the Water Quality Control Board hasn't fined the city, which could have amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

City staff met Friday morning to discuss the notice, Knoll said. “We obviously have to begin the process of looking at specific projects that will create capacity in our system.”


The staff, said Knoll, already had been working on ways to address the system's capacity, but it now takes on added urgency.


“We're going to be putting together a report to the City Council for their consideration on Feb. 6,” he said. “It'll list some projects that we think that, if implemented, would create some capacity in our system and enable us to continue issuing building permits.”


Knoll said the plans at this time involve modifying CLMSD's recapture pond, which will allow the system to begin the irrigation process sooner in the spring and extend the fall irrigation timeframe.


“What that does is it just allows us to irrigate more and dispose of additional treated wastewaster,” he said. which would occur on CLMSD land.


They're also looking at expanding the wastewater storage reservoir and expanding their spray irrigation fields, he said.


The hookup ban has “some potential” for impacting a potential development plan on the CLMSD land, said Knoll. But he said it could also hurt other projects in the city, such as proposed subdivision projects.


Knoll said his interpretation of the order restricts the city's ability to issue any more building permits until the order is lifted.


And that could result in a catch-22. “We generate revenue, frankly, to expand the system through the issuance of building permits,” he said.


The ban on hookups also could extend to city projects and result in a hold up on projects that could help expand the sewer system's capacity, said Knoll.


As to when the ban could be lifted, Knoll said he doesn't know. “I can't even speculate on that.”


The picture may become clearer in March. The Water Quality Control Board has scheduled a public hearing on the hookup restriction during its meeting on March 15 and 16. The meeting will take place at the board's Rancho Cordova office.


Knoll said he expects that the Water Quality Control Board will uphold its staff's recommendation for the connection ban at that meeting. In addition, he said the board could impose a timeframe for expanding the system, during which the hookup ban, theoretically, could remain in place.


Lakeport, Knoll said, plans to argue that the board should allow the city some flexibility with regard to issuing permits for projects to expand the system's storage facilities.


The city may explore approaching various developers with projects about financing improvements to the sewer system in order to expedite capacity expansion, said Knoll.


That would mean developers would be asked to provide money up front, in the form of expansion fees, to generate capital that would then go into expansion projects for the system, he explained.


“That's a fairly common approach used by other places as well,” he said.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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