The California State Water Resources Control Board has issued a reprimand to the chief plant operator at a South County sewer plant for failing to ensure that all requirements were met for tests of the plant’s treated discharge.
The board determined Jeff Appleton, South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District's chief plant operator, “failed to use care or good judgment in the course of employment as an operator or failing to apply knowledge or ability in the performance of duties” because he didn’t review the plant’s procedures to ensure its compliance with sampling methods of treated wastewater.
The water board’s decision is less severe than the action it originally had proposed against Appleton, who has worked as chief plant operator in Oceano since 2000. He is currently on an extended leave for health reasons.
The board had proposed to downgrade his operator certificate for a year, which would have not allowed him to continue in that role at the treatment plant for that time period. Appleton could return, though district officials do not know whether he will do so, said Michael Seitz, the district’s attorney. Appleton has 30 days to reply to the water board if he disagrees with its decision.
In January, the water board’s letter to Appleton stated he had “used fraud and deception in the course of employment” by improperly directing operators not to take samples of effluent and by directing former lab technician Devina Douglas to dump a sample that might have failed a lab test in April 2009.
The water board did not find “clear and convincing evidence to a reasonable certainty” that Appleton had done either allegation. Nor did water board staff determine that he had failed to update the plant’s maintenance manual or keep raw data collected by plant operators for a certain period of time.
The treatment plant serves residents in the communities of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano.