Ground and water contamination issues raised about SDC

Posted on June 9, 2019 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The manager in charge of water treatment facilities at the Sonoma Developmental Center has raised serious concerns about contamination and lax or ignored maintenance and oversight, according to emails reviewed by The Sun.

Ray Wagner was most recently Chief Plant Operator on the SDC campus. He has since left for another position in another county. Upon his departure earlier this year, he sent an email outlining his concerns to Mischa Anderson, an engineer at the Sonoma District of the State Water Resources Control Board – Division of Drinking Water (RWQCB).

In emails made public, Wagner asks Anderson a series of questions about observations he made during his one-year term as Plant Operator at SDC.

Based on Anderson’s replies, it appears SDC may have a serious water and ground contamination history to deal with. How long the suspect practices have taken place is unknown, but it may be decades. Among the various concerns Wagner raised are the dumping of lab chemicals in a sink draining thirty-five feet away onto open ground, and a process for cleaning holding tanks that essentially flushes the sediment along the ground and into an open gulley.

The email also suggests that the overflow balance tanks above Suttonfield Lake, containing chlorine residue and by-products, are improperly allowed to overflow into the lake itself.

Predictably, Anderson’s response was to highlight these practices as inappropriate and needing investigation, and refers Wagner to permitting requirements and regulations of the RWQCB.

For example, in referring to backwash sludge, he notes, “The operations plan needs to be updated with the filter backwash sludge removal procedures, i.e. how removal interval is determined, company which the water system contracts with for sludge removal.”

With regard to the overflow tanks above Suttonfield Lake, he states, “Overflow of balance tanks to should be avoided as it could cause DBP issues. Discharge to Sonoma Creek is regulated by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and permits to discharge must be secured through them.” DBP refers to disinfection by-products, some of which are carcinogenic.

It is unclear how many and when any infractions may have occurred. But clearly, Anderson is concerned with maintaining water quality levels.

SDC is currently in a state of a warm shutdown, with minimal occupancy and use. Still, Anderson notes, “The system must continue to ensure that the water system is adequately staffed at all times, which includes covering weekends, vacations, and emergency on-call coverage.”

The shutdown has resulted in a decreased demand for water, which he said, “has implications on the operations of the water system treatment and distribution and may require increased staffing to operate the water system.”

Lastly, and notably, Anderson states, “RWQCB Division of Drinking Water oversight is of the water system; if there is non-compliance with a permit provision the Division may pursue enforcement action if the situation warrants.”

Future plans for the SDC property are currently under review by Sonoma County, with funding from the state to maintain the facility for three years. If ground and water contamination has occurred on a long-term basis, the costs of proper clean-up and remediation may be considerable.


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