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Camp Meeker Beat - February 2015

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Camp Meeker Beat - February 2015

by Tom Austin

Okay, we’re now in the dead of winter. February. There’s a reason Valentine’s Day is in February. No, it’s not so Hallmark can move product in an otherwise slow month. Don’t be such a cynic. No, it’s because the dead of winter is when we need to strengthen our bonds with those we are cooped up with. Cabin fever is so much more bearable when love is in the air. The pitter-patter of raindrops wouldn’t go amiss, either – since those big storms it’s been pretty dry again. 

Once again, all quiet on the hard news front in Camp Meeker. However, our neighbors in Occidental are once again dealing with the sewer problem. Since our communities are practically joined at the hip, I will use some poetic license to brief y’all on the doings.     

The root cause is the same as always – an aging treatment plant needing lots of work to bring it up to current standards, and lots of cash to pay for lots of work. Five to six million dollars is the current estimate. The urgency of the problem is driven by a January 2018 deadline to stop holding the treated wastewater in the pond (Graham’s Pond is the official name) next to the treatment facility between Occidental and Graton Roads.  This is because of a state order issued two years ago. The treatment plant sits in the headwaters of Dutch Bill Creek (and there’s your Camp Meeker angle). Currently, the treatment plant is allowed to discharge water into the creek only in the winter, and only after tertiary treatment (the highest level of treatment). But that was all buying time. In the long run, the pond has to be phased out. 

I’m sure you remember the painful anticipation of paying for the proposed sewer in Camp Meeker a few years back. The situation is similar in Occidental, with just fifty or sixty rate payers stuck with the tab in the form of higher sewer bills until everything is paid off. This is over and above the approximately $1900 a year per single family household they are already paying. 

There is creativity at work, however: Steve Dutton has a 43-acre vineyard on Morelli Lane and needs to truck in 20,000 gallons of water a day during the growing season. The idea is to upgrade the plant to tertiary treatment and pipe the effluent (that’s not a very nice word, is it?) up to a storage reservoir Dutton would build on his property. Despite the unflattering name, wastewater after tertiary treatment is pretty clean. And what the heck, it’s being used for irrigation!    

The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) is hoping other agricultural users along Harrison Grade will also sign up to receive some of the water. If enough of them sign up, there would be no need to discharge into Dutch Bill Creek at all – the ideal “zero discharge” option. 

The fallback plan to all this, if the costs are still too high, would be to truck the water out to treatment plants elsewhere. While this would be cheaper from a capital expenditures standpoint, it strikes me as an expensive proposition long term – and not just financially. All you eco-hippies will certainly appreciate the environmental damage of a bunch more trucks on our west county roads. 

Still plenty of hurdles – SCWA is beating the bushes for any loans, grants, and what have you to help defray the costs of the sewer upgrade. Let’s all cross our fingers that this gets done, and done in a way that doesn’t rake the ratepayers over the coals. There is plenty of talk-talk and lawyering still to come on this, and I will try to keep you posted if anything significant comes across the transom. 

Okay, now that I’ve primed the pump with a lengthy discourse on effluent, perhaps you can raise the tone a tad when expressing your love and affection for your sweetheart, whoever he or she may be. And if you are currently sweet heartless, there’s a silver lining: you can’t possibly screw up. Go ahead and watch that Godzilla movie in your underwear while eating Ben and Jerry’s from the carton. Maybe some Chubby Hubby!