By Deb Murphy
The waste water treatment plant for the Pine Creek Village, formerly known as Rovana, has been running like clockwork for years with no violations.
But, three months ago, owner John Hooper was notified the system that serves 86 family homes requires a Grade III Chief Plant Operator and a fulltime Class II operator.
The cost, according to a petition to the State Water Resources Control Board crafted by attorney Greg James, would range from $161,000 to $207,150 a year. Absorbing the additional cost would raise rents, currently from $510 to $1,000 a month, up to $200 more a month.
According to Hooper, the treatment plant currently takes staff an hour or two a day to operate. Under the new regulations, the plant would require two full-time certified operators.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors will discuss the issue at today’s meeting, armed with letters to state officials and Senate and Assembly representatives in support of amending the regulations for small, rural plants. James’ initial request for reconsideration of the operator certification was turned down. He then filed a petition for review with the state board.
The issue and its ramifications were discussed at last week’s meeting of Consortium of Care partners. Pine Creek Village rents are currently under market value and provide affordable housing for families.
In a County with a housing shortage, especially in the affordable category, the potential loss of those 86 units is significant representing approximately 5 percent of the total rental market.
Public treatment plants have lived under the staffing regulations for some time; the new set of regs from the control board apply to private operations. The initial deadline for compliance was 2015; Hooper was notified he was out of compliance last August.
Ken Wilder has been involved with the Pine Creek community and its plant for 45 years, first as an environmental chemist for Union Carbide, the original owner of the employee housing community.
Now, he’s not considered qualified to operate the treatment plant.
The plant’s classification was determined by two factors: type of plant and size. In Pine Creek’s case, the plant is an activated sludge process with a flow of 0.017 million gallons per day sticking it in Class III, defined by 5 mgd or less of flow. The Round Valley homes obviously generate less, a lot less than the Class maximum.
Pine Creek’s petition argues a 5 mgd plant would serve 25,000 homes, 24,914 more homes than exist in Pine Creek with a flow of 4,983,000 fewer gallons processed a day. The petition requests the regulations be amended to classify small active sludge plants as Class I or II, with less onerous operator requirements.
The activated sludge process treats waste water with oxygen; bacteria feed on the organic contaminants in the wastewater. The crud (not a technical term) sinks to the bottom, leaving a relatively clear effluent. The sludge ends up in the County landfill. The National Environmental Services Center Pipeline newsletter describes the system as “producing a high quality effluent for a reasonable operating and maintenance cost.”
Wilder described the lagoon type treatment system—the effluent percolates in a pond—used at the Independence treatment plant which his company, Wilder Barton Inc., once operated. “I guess activated sludge plants take more smarts.”
Hooper feels the regulations were “not well thought out.”
“This is going to be a major problem for thousands of small, rural plants in the state,” he said.