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Finally, a Viable Solution for Wastewater in Occidental

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Finally, a Viable Solution for Wastewater in Occidental

By Ann Maurice, Ad Hoc Committee for Clean Water

The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) hired a consulting firm, Stantec, to evaluate tertiary treatment for Occidental.

The good news is that Stantec confirmed the Ad Hoc Committee for Clean Water’s findings that tertiary treatment is in fact available and affordable for Occidental. They found that three tertiary options are feasible for about $3 million. That’s about half the price of the 2013 failed and controversial proposal by SCWA.

The 2013 SCWA plan would have cost over $5 million, not counting legal expense to condemn and forcibly acquire the necessary property. That SCWA plan offered no treatment upgrade, uprooting of about 200 trees including massive redwoods, some over 15 feet in diameter, and condemnation of rural residential agricultural property outside the wastewater district by Facendini Lane and Graton Road. That highly unpopular SCWA plan was abandoned in 2014. So, locals teamed up with the Ad Hoc Committee for Clean Water to find an alternative. We found, and Stantec confirmed, that tertiary treatment is feasible, cheaper, and that condemnation is not at all required because land already owned by the County is adequate for tertiary treatment plant construction.

Occidental remains under a Cease and Desist order and cannot continue operating the same old way. The problem? Even though SCWA paid Stantec $150,000, SCWA rejected Stantec’s figures and have not widely publicized their report. Rather than championing cheap local tertiary treatment, SCWA introduced a new controversial plan to truck all Occidental’s raw sewage to the Guerneville treatment plant adjacent to the Russian River on a full time basis as their preferred option.

Is trucking all Occidental’s raw sewage through Camp Meeker and Monte Rio along Bohemian Highway to Guerneville all year reasonable? Desirable? Suitable as a long term solution? Community members are asking SCWA to call a meeting allowing Stantec to present their findings to the community. During the last town meeting only about 4 of the 50 or so folks in attendance had heard of the Stantec report let alone read it and there was no mention of it in the press.

Area residents want an end to the seemingly endless Occidental wastewater disposal dilemma especially since an affordable long-term solution for tertiary treatment is at hand. Such tertiary treatment would allow discharge into Dutch Bill Creek in winter and irrigation in town and grassland around Occidental to percolate into the soil, move slowly downhill underground to Dutch Bill Creek by summer, yielding more summer flow for Coho salmon revival. Occidental could become a showcase for landscaping with tertiary wastewater, providing grazing pasture for sheep to turn wastewater into wool, and a truck-fill station for nearby residents for fire protection, and residential landscaping.

The technology preferred by the Ad Hoc Committee for Clean Water is Aeromod because it has been operating effectively in Ferndale and Rio Dell and its track record of affordable management is making it the choice of numerous small communities in our California North Coast. We should have the opportunity to review all 3 options reviewed by Stantec, and then give informed opinion to SCWA. Year-round trucking of raw sewage raises the specter of truck accidents, spills, greenhouse gas emissions and it is debatable whether the Guerneville plant can accommodate more wastewater to treat and dispose of safely. Also consider the financial burden on Guerneville ratepayers. 

See articles: “Locals Plan for Occidental Wastewater Treatment Plant”, Sonoma County Gazette, February 1, 2015; and “An Eco-Garden in Occidental and Turning Wastewater Into Wool”, Sonoma County Gazette, March 1, 2015.