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Solutions for Occidental Wastewater

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Solutions for Occidental Wastewater

by Ann Maurice Ad Hoc Committee for Clean Water Occidental

Yes, there is a long-term, affordable “tertiary” wastewater treatment system for Occidental. There are even three, yes, three technologies to choose from. All three were reviewed by Stantec, a huge, independent engineering firm with offices in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Central and Southern California, all over the U.S. and Canada.

Stantec’s conclusion? That all three technologies -- Aeromod, Membrane Bio Reactor (MBR) and Sequencing Batch Reactor (SBR) are affordable for Occidental. How affordable? Stantec advised the County Water Agency (SCWA) that each of the three would cost only about $3 million installed in Occidental. That price included every cost that Stantec engineers, in their experience could anticipate, including an additional percentage for inevitable overruns!

By contrast, the last failed project proposed by the Water Agency in 2012 would have cost more than twice as much to construct a monstrous wastewater holding tank on an unstable hillside above a private home, and involved uprooting 200 trees, including massive 18 foot diameter redwoods! That ridiculous plan was vigorously opposed and a volunteer group of Occidental locals, led by the Ad Hoc Committee for Clean Water, also of Occidental, looked for viable alternatives. 

So what happened? In 2013, we found a solution! So, the County Water Agency, SCWA, hired Stantec for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Stantec’s review confirmed, yes, confirmed the Ad Hoc Committee for Clean Water’s findings! But, the Water Agency promptly ignored Stantec, their own hired consultant, claiming that Stantec just didn’t understand West County (?!?!) and proposed instead, a year ago,  to truck all Occidental’s raw sewage to a residential neighborhood in Guerneville! Trouble is, nobody warned the folks in that neighborhood to expect huge wastewater haulers to be dumping Occidental’s awful offal on them! So, just last December, Guernewood Park residents got a “Christmas Surprise”!

The County Water Agency didn’t even schedule a Public Hearing. Kudos to newly elected Supervisor Hopkins for extending the public comment period and scheduling a Hearing to give local residents a chance to “digest” (figuratively speaking) the raw sewage being served up by the County Water Agency! Occidental area residents wanted an affordable tertiary upgrade in Occidental. It was the Water Agency, SCWA, that preferred dumping raw sewage on Guerneville.

The Hearing room was packed to capacity. With a Court Recorder present, Guerneville residents reprimanded, scolded, rebuked, admonished, reproached, upbraided, chastised, castigated and embarrassed the Water Agency, SCWA, for having the audacity to dump on them such an “indecent proposal”. Testimony was intelligent, competent, informed and articulate.

Now there’s talk of trucking Occidental’s raw sewage to Graton. Why did the Water Agency drag their feet and ignore Stantec’s findings? The Ad Hoc Committee for Clean Water found affordable tertiary treatment way back in 2013! Tertiary treatment options could have been evaluated, and a project chosen and constructed in Occidental by now! Instead, seems like the County Water Agency wants chaos in order to provoke the State Regional Board into imposing fines on the County for being out of compliance by the 2018 deadline. What gives?

As for the last tidbit regarding wastewater disposal, if pasture is irrigated, Occidental’s summertime, dry season effluent would require only about 8 acres for irrigation. Now, with the legalization of water-guzzling pot, only a couple of acres, yes, just one or two acres of “weed” would be enough.  So, the reasonable solution for Occidental’s wastewater treatment and disposal was found over three years ago, but is currently being ignored by the Sonoma County Water Agency in favor of driving Guerneville residents to distraction and continuing to promote illogical, unreasonable, and perpetual dysfunction in West County. What weird politics and hidden agenda is driving this?

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