For years, the City of Eureka sent treated sewage directly into Humboldt Bay from its Elk River treatment plant.
But five years ago, the North Coast Regional Water Control Board ordered the city to ‘cease and desist’ and move to sea disposal by 2030. The city is now seeking a resolution that would allow the waters used to continue to be discharged into the bay. The water council will meet in mid-August to decide.
Whether or not the city gets the exemption to continue, plans are underway to make upgrades to the Elk River sewage treatment facility.
“The existing plant is 40 years old at this point in terms of operating life,” said Brian Gerving, director of public works for Eureka, on Monday. “Besides some of the maintenance that needs to be done, which has also been done over time, but obviously further maintenance and upgrades to come that are needed due to changing regulations. We expect to make improvements that will need to be funded over a period of time.
Three local environmental groups argue the city must stop sending treated sewage into the bay and comply with the water board’s order to move to ocean discharge.
“We believe that a discharge exemption puts the cart before the horse. They need to significantly upgrade the sewage treatment system to clean up this effluent before they can determine if it is reasonable to continue discharging it into the bay,” Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, told The Times-Standard.
But Gerving argued the city wasn’t asking for something it hadn’t done in years.
“It’s not like there’s a condition changing or a new discharge happening or anything like that,” he said.
The Eureka plant discharges up to 12 million gallons of treated wastewater per day, although Gerving said volumes are generally significantly lower.
An assessment by local engineering firm GHD for the city of Eureka found that creating a new ocean outfall, the system used to shed water, is “unfeasible”. The same assessment also deemed the rehabilitation of a Simpson outfall as “unfeasible”, with the only viable option being to use the sound discharge system that Nordic Aquafarms plans to use at Redwood Terminal II on the Samoa Peninsula.
On Tuesday, the general manager of the Humboldt Community Services District is expected to discuss the project with the board. The report he will present – which is included in the agenda – describes a strained relationship between the city of Eureka and the Community Services District which serves about 6,200 sewer customers.
Terrence Williams, the chief executive, said the city said the district’s ocean outfall was not a viable option.
“City staff have told me that they do not believe there is enough space at the treatment facility to install the necessary unit processes to treat effluent to the level required by the Regional Board to a bay discharge and is actively working to reduce associated effluent water quality requirements,” the Williams report states.
Williams also accuses city staff of a “lack of information transfer.”
The city manager of Eureka had a different view on the issue of transparency.
“We’ve always had a collaborative process with HCSD and have always partnered with them on all of our different projects,” Slattery told The Times-Standard. “… We are going to have a discussion with (the district) and ensure that the transfer of information, if necessary, and the respect of the contractual agreement that we have with HCSD. We have always adhered to the contractual agreements we have with HGSD.
The Humboldt Community Services District is concerned that the cost of the sewage plant upgrades will fall on the district’s sewer customers, who are contractually obligated to pay about one-third of the capital improvements.
But the big question of “how much” remains what Williams called “muddy and unclear.”
“It’s really unclear because the city is still trying to cost the changes they’re trying to make,” Williams said. “And those costs will be passed on to the district when they are solidified. … If they get the exemption, they will have to do some factory upgrades; if they are not eligible for the exemption, various upgrades will have to take place.
The district has submitted comments to the regional water board that pose a long list of questions — many of which the district says have not been addressed in its ongoing dialogue with Eureka officials.
“The regional board has issued ORDER NO. R1-2016-0012 in 2016 because the discharge into the bay was not working as intended and therefore causing undesirable environmental impacts on the receiving waters,” the letter signed by Williams reads. “What level of certainty is there that the
the required upgrades to the treatment plant will mitigate these impacts? »
Comments on water discharges from the Elk River Wastewater Treatment Center can be emailed to the North Coast Regional Water Control Board at [email protected]
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.