Nipomo officials suspect human waste is being illegally dumped into manholes

One of the Nipomo Community Services District’s wastewater treatment facilities reported 13 violations of its discharge requirements in January, and local officials suspect that illegal dumping could be part of the problem.

Staff at the Southland Wastewater Treatment Facility — which serves a majority of district residents — noticed higher levels of solid material entering the plant late last year, as well as in January.

“We’re seeing higher concentrations that are two and three times higher than you typically see in residential wastewater,” district General Manager Michael LeBrun said.

At the same time, construction to upgrade the sewage plant is under way, which has reduced the plant’s treatment capacity by about 25 percent, he said.

The district could face fines for the January violations, but a Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board official said that’s not being considered at this time.

The water board could impose fines of $5,000 a day or $10 per gallon of waste discharged; a court-imposed fine would be much higher, at $15,000 a day or $20 per gallon of the waste discharged.

“We haven’t considered any formal enforcement action,” said David LaCaro, an environmental scientist with the regional water board who oversees the facility’s discharge permit. “We understand they’re going under an upgrade to their plant, and we believe water quality will be improved because of the upgrade.”

In the meantime, district staff is investigating why the sewage plant is receiving larger amounts of human waste. LeBrun is concerned that someone may be illegally dumping waste from septic tanks or recreational vehicles into one or more of the collection system’s 700 manholes.

Calls placed to local agencies to ask about the recent activities of septic haulers indicate nothing out of the ordinary, according to a monthly report the district filed with the regional water board. The Sheriff’s Office has been contacted and asked to look out for any illegal activity.

“We’re treating around 650,000 gallons of waste daily, so to see these spikes means that it’s probably not a (one-time incident),” LeBrun said.

Construction on the sewage treatment plant upgrade is expected to wrap up in May 2014. The $13 million project was prompted by repeated testing violations and a notice of violation issued in 2005 by the regional water board.

The treatment facility is located south of the intersection of South Frontage Road and Southland Street and serves 3,000 residential and commercial connections.

Anyone who sees any suspicious activity around district facilities, including manholes, is asked to call the district at 929-1133.