All Washed Up: Grand Jury Wastewater Report is Fatally Flawed

Excellent critique of the Grand Jury report on wastewater by Brenda Adelman.

Press Democrat Jul 7, 2007
*All washed up: Grand jury wastewater report is fatally flawed*


Having studied Sonoma County water and wastewater issues for the last 28
years, I can appreciate how challenging it is for someone unfamiliar
with the subject to write an extensive report making sense of it all.

Unfortunately, the recent grand jury report about water and wastewater
issues facing Sonoma County and the city of Santa Rosa didn’t make sense.

The report was filled with inaccuracies and contradictions. It didn’t
comprehend relationships between the many players, their agendas and the
water and wastewater power structure. It omitted many key rules, issues
and projects, including the North Coast Basin Plan, which drives the
train on water quality regulation and forms the basis for infrastructure
needs. It is a very confusing analysis of an important problem by an
institution normally possessing credibility in the public view.

The problems begin with the title. “Wastewater: Money down the drain,”
is misleading in its exclusive mention of wastewater since the report
discusses both water and wastewater issues. The title also implies that
wastewater treatment is a waste of money. Yet, wastewater has far
greater potential for risky toxic exposures that can bring harm to
humans and wildlife than potable water, and consequently is generally
far more expensive to treat — hardly money down the drain.

The report fails to differentiate between the use of wastewater for
irrigation during summer and wastewater discharge during winter. After
commenting that The Geysers project used so much wastewater that there
was almost nothing left for irrigation (a summertime issue), it then
jumps to Santa Rosa’s plans for discharging more wastewater into the
Russian River (a wintertime solution to excessive wastewater), accusing
The Geysers project of not living up to its promise to solve the
wastewater problem. (The Geysers project uses an average of 11 million
gallons a day, while the wastewater entering the treatment plant in the
winter can be four times that amount.)

The report goes on to state that Santa Rosa still has a “time of year”
issue where it has too much wastewater in the winter to be legally
discharged into the Russian River. That is simply not true. Currently
Santa Rosa’s discharges are far lower than before The Geysers project
was built and are nowhere near the limit allowed by the current permit.

Not only did the report show a lack of understanding about why winter
river discharge is still necessary, but it attributed the problem to the
Sonoma County Water Agency rather than the city of Santa Rosa.

Another inaccurate statement reads, “It is estimated the cost of
additional storage facilities will be in the $100 million range because
Santa Rosa will only need additional storage space for five million
gallons and owns the possible sites for the tank.” Santa Rosa is
actually proposing to obtain up to 500 million gallons of storage at
this time and it would be stored in a pond rather than a tank.

The report also fails in what it omits. Of particular concern is a new
regulation, the California Toxics Rule (CTR). The grand jury also failed
to clearly describe the extreme degradation of the Laguna de Santa Rosa
(where wastewater is currently released), and its listing as an
“Impaired Water Body,” which provides the basis for new permit
requirements that have led the city to look for a new discharge point.

In fact, the report states that moving the discharge point to the main
stem of the Russian River would help ease permit requirements. This
would only occur if the regional water board made concessions on the
methods of discharge compliance, which it has not yet done.

The report goes on to issue findings and recommendations, many of which
are viable and make sense. But at the end it recommends consolidating
small sewer districts run by the county, even though there had been no
meaningful discussion of the pros and cons of doing so.

I am disappointed that a group with the grand jury’s stature would put
out such a poorly written report. Many people will read it and become
confused. It could chill public involvement in these complex issues and
does not serve the needs of county citizens. This report should be
withdrawn and rewritten. More study should be conducted on this
complicated issue and a new report issued next year.

Brenda Adelman is a Guerneville resident and the director of the Russian
River Watershed Protection Committee.
Jul 7, 2007 © The Press Demo