Regional water quality officials are evaluating a recent flurry of reports from the Cambria services district to determine whether the previous lack of that required but tardy information will trigger formal notices of violation.
According to Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board representatives, Cambria Community Services District personnel also didn’t communicate soon enough with the water board about some January flood episodes that sent storm water from state park property rushing onto land owned by the CSD.
Among the facilities on the CSD acreage is a pond that holds brine from a water-reclamation process, plus infrastructure that’s supposed to keep storm water out.
The late reports were submitted after a meeting Wednesday, Feb. 1, at which water board and CSD officials discussed what services district personnel should have reported to the water board and when, why that didn’t happen, and what district officials must do now to rectify the situation.
CSD General Manager Jerry Gruber said in an email interview that he found the Feb. 1 meeting “extremely helpful,” and “my viewpoint is that we need to do better and we are doing so.”
In a Feb. 2 email to Harvey Packard of the water board, Gruber said the district is “strongly committed to resolving the issue before us and becoming a model agency,” and that “our meeting was an eye opener for me … I can promise you, things will get better.”
A central topic of conversation at the Feb. 1 meeting was the January flooding.
Flood water entered the brine pond, a structure some agencies refer to as an impoundment. According to water board engineer Ryan Lodge, having storm water in the brine pond violated the district’s Waste Discharge Requirements.
Lodge said Tuesday, Feb. 7, that those requirements specify that the pond and surrounding area be designed to prevent flooding from as much as a 1,000-year, 24-hour rain event, which he described later as 10.2 inches of rain over a 24-hour period. “The impoundment is only supposed to contain brine and rain that falls on top of it. It’s not supposed to have storm-water flow” in it.
The CSD is supposed to notify the water agency within 24 hours of any flooding near the pond or the district’s well field, or any of several other water-quality problems.
Jerry Gruber, CSD general manager, said in an email interview Tuesday, Feb. 7, that “although we notified the water board of the event, they would have liked to have been notified earlier.” He said, “All of the reports discussed in our meeting with the Water Board have been submitted. Also all reports that are due on Feb. 15 will be submitted on time.”
At the district directors’ Jan. 19 meeting, during a testy exchange about the issue, Gruber said the notification delay was because staff was busy dealing with the emergency situations.
Lodge said he learned of the earlier flooding in a Jan. 10 conversation with a citizen concerned about another issue. The engineer went to the site Jan. 11. “There was floodwater flowing over San Simeon Creek Road onto Cambria CSD property,” he said.
He said the district notified the water board Jan. 20 “that the floodwaters were entering the surface impoundment that day,” and he went to the site then, too.
Lodge said he didn’t see floodwater entering the pond during either inspection because “CSD staff had diverted flows around the surface impoundment on both occasions.”
On Feb. 6, the CSD sent the Water Board a four-page revised storm- water flooding report. Lodge had requested that report during his Jan. 11 site visit. CSD engineer Bob Gresens had sent the original report Jan. 31, but Lodge had additional questions, and the revision includes those answers.
“No discharge of any water from our evaporation pond occurred,” Gresens wrote in the report,” but “storm water entered our evaporation pond, causing its surface-water elevation to rise from having at least 4 feet of freeboard below its maximum-allowable level to having ½-inch of freeboard remaining as of Jan. 30.”
Freeboard is the area between the water surface and the top of the lined impoundment, Lodge said, and the CSD must maintain approximately 34 inches of freeboard to be in compliance with their waste-discharge requirements.
Gresens said state parks property north of the creek road “has a low point,” and storm water can drain “across the public roadway before entering onto our pond property.” The storm water is supposed to drain into a 36-inch diameter culvert under the creek road, but that wasn’t happening.
Gresens said staff “first noticed the roadway flooding on Jan. 9,” the first such flooding since the pond was completed in 2014. The lower roadway area “has experienced past drainage problems following multiple, powerful rainfall events.”
On Jan. 10, workers deepened and extended trenching northwest of the pond, diverting a “substantial amount of storm water.”
On Jan. 20, “CSD staff observed first-hand storm water sheet flowing over isolated portions of the northern embankment liner” of the pond.
California Conservation Corps crews helped sandbag the area, and CSD staff did additional trenching. “These measures have proven effective at preventing a recurrence of the earlier flooding into the pond,” Gresens concluded.
CSD officials are discussing the issue with county staff, state Office of Emergency Services and State Parks “as we strive to develop a permanent solution to prevent” recurrences of the flooding. Gresens also suggested meeting with Water Board staff to discuss ways to increase pond freeboard.
A meeting to talk about the flooding issue with state parks was to have happened after press deadline Wednesday, Feb. 8.
Notices of violation
The water board can issue various complaints, orders and notices of violations, take enforcement actions and levy mandatory minimum penalties.
According to information at http://bit.ly/2lr4HTg, a notice of violation “is the most significant level of informal enforcement action and is used only where a violation has actually occurred.”
As water board engineer Lodge said Feb. 7, “we will be issuing (to) Cambria CSD correspondence regarding the flooding incident, and we are currently evaluating whether that correspondence will be in the form of a Notice of Violation or not.”