Santa Rosa NPDES Permit Appeal and Letter by RW and CAG

See attached appeal by River Watch and Coast Action Group and letter pasted below to Santa Rosa City Council from Coast Action:

Dear City Council Members:

The City of Santa Rosa has filed an appeal to their new Wastewater NPDES permit.

As stated previously, I think this is a mistake as the permit was quite lenient – allowed for discharge beyond acceptable standards and allowed for pollution trading as a method to reach “Zero” discharge.

Northern California Riverwatch and Coast Action Group have filed a petition with the SWRCB requesting compliance with the Clean Water Act, State Water Code, and the Basin Plan for the North Coast Region. I suggest you take the time to read the petition.

As you can see, the NPDES process can, should, and will likely become more arduous. It is time to look at future outcomes and options rather than adhering to the policy of hiring experts and lawyers that can do little to change the inevitable (under the law). Solving this problem mandates personal understanding and involvement by those in charge of the process – the City Council.

For many years you have committed, on a yearly basis, millions of dollars in ways that have not and will not work for the interests if the City. This several million dollars per year expenditure adds little to problem resolution. It only retards progress towards a solution and misdirects dollars that could have been spent on solutions. It should also be added that the burden of these expenses related to increased discharges is unfairly supported by the historic base of ratepayers when new development should support additional increased costs for the need for pollution control.

Outcome of the Petition(s)

As stated previously, the State Board may chose not to hear either petition. If the State Board hears the petition(s) the outcome may be a stronger permit.

Are the petition(s) preludes to litigation. I hope not. This is always a possibility. Again. looking at the law fair argument can be made for a stronger permit – with time and money wasted will be the final result.

Outcome of Laguna TMDL

The Laguna will remain listed as impaired (contrary to efforts of your consultants who against all evidence still claim that the City’s wastewater is not a contributor and their is no science to show nutrients are causing the problem).

The Regional Board has given staff direction to move forward with the TMDL (and Action Plan) for the Laguna. The TMDL will find that the Laguna is grossly overloaded with nutrients (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) the are having a biostimulatory effect and creating a public nuisance – ludwigia problem.

It will be found that the contributing factors are: Santa Rosa City Wastewater, Agriculture, Santa Rosa City Stormwater (development, urban runoff, other sources), , and County Stormwater Sources (not necessarily in order of contribution size).

Of all the sources listed above, which is most controllable? The Basin Plan mandates the limitation of any controllable pollutant input to an impaired waterbody. It is fairly obvious what inputs will be limited right off the bat – wastewater. Ag and stormwater contributions will be dealt with next.

Areas where the City can make progress in pollution trading:

The current NPDES permit, as written, allows for final pollutant input goal of “Zero” to be accomplished via pollution trading. It would be wise for the City to take this up as progress in this are can be cost effective and show results in the short term. Stormwater pollutant inputs into the Laguna (and Santa Rosa Creek) are probably more nutrient rich and chemical laden than the wastewater discharges. The City probably can get Regional Board, EPA, technical and funding help in dealing with this problem.

With the City’s consultants and resources still rigidly married to the idea that fighting the NPDES permit and ignoring the Laguna and stormwater problems, it will be difficult to get movement going in a new direction.

Below are some notes from previous communications with the City on the Stormwater issue:

I like the Prince Greenway and use it all the time. It is a great asset to the City.

However it has nothing to do with protecting the Beneficial Uses of Water.

Santa Rosa Creek (and tribs) are a mess and deliver pollutants to the Laguna. Santa Rosa Creek is listed as impaired for pathogens, temperature, sediment, nutrients, etc.. Not much is going on, in the case of the City, in terms of restoration and/or protect beneficial uses by limiting pollutant inputs. This problem exacerbates conditions on the Laguna – which intern compromises with the City’s waste water NPDES permit.

The City’s Stormwater Ordinance and implementation program is out to lunch (ineffective and not be enforced). This adversely influences the problems mentioned above.

My suggestions to start to initiate remedy (areas where the City can start working )are:

* Put more toilets where indigent folks can have access and not poop in the Creek(s).

* Do better enforcement on storm water issues.

* Initiate an education and enforcement program for dog poop animal waste control

* Do more waste water recycling for irrigation. You are already moving in this direction – more can be done. This suggests less need for nutrients to support plant growth as the recycled water is nutrient rich. Thus, the City can ask SR residents, via an education program, to use less nutrients for lawns and gardens

* Work with, and/or comment on, Sonoma County programs (i.e. GP 2020) where the County has jurisdiction on responsibility for activities that effect Santa Rosa Creek and Laguna resources. The City has been silent here. This needs to change. What the County does in this area effects the City.

* Get expert opinion for basis in Santa Rosa Creek (and tributary) activities that would provide protection and restorative process.

Finally: The Laguna ( and Russian River) TMDL will indicate activity necessary to comply with beneficial uses protection for Santa Rosa Creek as well as the Laguna. Consultation with the Regional Board staff to address issue will be necessary. It would be wise to start this process immediately so as not to waste money and resources. The Regional Board staff are well versed in the issues and can be helpful in solving some of these problems for the City.

It might be wise not to place all bets on your attorneys and consultants – do some research on you own. It will be way less expensive than blindly going down the same path.

Summary of NPDES conditions

The NPDES was adopted by the Board, in total, and then amended with the following exceptions related to the three basic outstanding issues:

1) Monitoring at point of discharge – The City of Santa Rosa may submit an alternative monitoring plan within 180 of adoption of the permit. The RB EO has 90 days to accept, reject, or work out modifications of any proposed alternative monitoring plan. Then, the City must implement in 90 days.

2) Sanitary Sewer Overflows prohibition – remains in the permit in original form

3) Biostimulant Limitations – Revision of language with Alternative (g) – reopening language

(g) The Discharge can complete a study justifying alternative final numerical limitation that demonstrates, if alternative limitations are allowed, will not violate receiving water standards – violate water quality objectives for the Laguna. The RB can reopen the order and make modifications.

(g) Existing water quality effluent limitations for biostimulants will stand. Such limitations may be adjusted by TMDL findings. “No net loading” effluent limitations can be met by; 1) reducing effluent concentrations, 2) reducing loads through recycling, 3) reducing loads by offset trading with other sources. This reopener is attached to the completion of the above mentioned study.

4) The Board gave staff direction to start moving on the TMDL for the Laguna. This may settle or adjust some issue.

Thus, the future of the NPDES is attached to the TMDL for the Laguna and the Russian River

In the interim, mass loading limits are in force. I am not sure about the final limitation. Historic inputs of 270,000 pounds of N and 48,000 pounds of P seem like a lot – while the City of Santa Rosa continues to deny that nutrients are impacting the Laguna. Under the NPDES permit, compliance with Water Quality Objectives are mandated to occur in 5 years. The EPA may agree with the above noted changes – or – they may indicate and require some changes.

Alan Levine
Coast Action Group