The State Water Resources Control Board has issued a notice of violation against a South County sanitation district for a December release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage.
The notice requires the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District to submit not only a technical report outlining the cause of the spill and the district’s response, but also detailed information about the agency by May 31. The notice goes beyond a standard violation by delving into the inner workings of the agency.
“We’re interested in the spill but also in their entire operation,” said water board spokesman Dave Clegern. Water board staff is trying to determine whether the sanitation district underreported the amount of sewage spilled in December, he said.
Sanitation district Administrator John Wallace said he expected the notice of violation “because it (the spill) was a significant event for us.”
“We continue to remind our ratepayers that this was the first spill we’ve had in at least 25 years,” he said Tuesday.
Water board staff won’t consider other enforcement action, such as fines, until after they receive the information, Clegern said. The state water code allows fines of up to $10 per gallon of the determined spill amount.
A civil penalty of up to $1,000 per day can also be levied if required information is not furnished or is falsified.
The state water board’s notice comes on the heels of other issues that have surfaced over the past year, including allegations of wrongdoing by two former employees, an investigation by state water board staff that resulted in a notice of violation last summer, and disciplinary action proposed against Chief Plant Operator Jeff Appleton by the state water board’s office of enforcement.
The spill happened Dec. 19, after heavy storms caused flooding in parts of Oceano, near the sanitation district plant. Floodwaters caused a power outage downing all four of the district’s pumps, and sewage overflowed from manholes in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The amount of sewage spilled was initially estimated at 1.8 million gallons to 2.3 million gallons, according to a report the sanitation district completed in January. The final number submitted to the state agency was 384,000 gallons after district staff analyzed data recorded during the spill, reviewed sewage line storage capacity and interviewed local residents who had been affected.
Other sewage spills were reported across San Luis Obispo County in December, but information was not available Tuesday on whether any other local sanitation districts have received notices of violation.
Wallace expects to bring an update to the sanitation district board — which includes a representative from Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano — at its next meeting.
He said a significant amount of the technical work that will be included in the report was submitted to the regional water board in January.