July 7, 2002
The struggle to bring Orange County sewage treatment up to the minimum routinely used everywhere else our size has been unaccountably difficult Orange County applied for, and fervently guards, its "waiver" under Sect. 301(h), that allows it to avoid full secondary treatment of all sewage.
Remnants of the old OC "know-nothing" reactionaries linger on.
Despite this inertia, 11 or more members of the 25 member Board of Directors of OCSD have already taken a formal position against renewal of the "waiver" that makes Orange County the largest discharger of sewage solids in the USA.
The Board will vote July 17th on whether to pursue the waiver, or, instead, negotiate a schedule to bring down discharges for full compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act.
There are a corps of academics and professionals who depend on our antequated method of "discharge and prove harmless". OCSD admits to having spent $14 million over the last 3 years alone in fruitless oceanographic surveys and tests trying to prove the ocean outfall discharges "innocent" and not responsible for the overall decay of offshore Ocean health. Much of that money went to researchers such as Dr. Grant.
Such funding would be curtailed if OCSD, as Los Angeles and most others, gets rid of the sewage waiver. In fact, if OCSD were to implement full secondary, and full tertiary, treatment of its wastewater, as most inland districts, we could eliminate *all* testing of the Ocean, and also get rid of the 5-mile long outfall pipe, reclaiming all of the water for revitalizing the Santa Ana River. L.A. has done this with water from the Tapia plant in the Sepulveda Basin, which has helped bring back the Los Angeles River.
The issue can be phrased as whether it's a good idea to continue to use 700 acre feet of water a day to "shift the disposal of sewage solids from the land to the Ocean". In the long run, this is thought to be not sustainable, unless one believes that treated sewage is a benefit to the habitat.
The environment around an outfall pipe is not very pretty, despite sewage dischargers' assurances. You can see the devastation of a small outfall, Goleta, on http://StopTheWaiver.com (thanks to HealTheOcean.org for the video, and BirdingByBoat.org for conversion to web).
Prof. Grant may be "...a scientist studying coastal pollution...", but one wonders what justifies his statements about the cost of "...$400 million..." if the waiver is lost. The cost of full secondary, OCSD now admits, would be no more than an average of $16 per year for the foreseeable future, according to OCSD's Communications Manager Lisa Murphy (714-593-7120). Perhaps much less, if the "soft costs" of compliance monitoring, testing, and studies, such as those received by Dr. Grant, are avoided.
No responsible argument would claim that the sewage discharges are the only problem off our Coast. But Prof. Grant does no service to his profession by lending the prestige of a great university to those who would continue the peculiar mythology around the Orange County waste treatment issue.
In the days of yore, we were able to abide by the 3 rules of unlimited degradation:
1. For storm water, call the Army Corps. of Engineers to build storm drains to *keep it off the fields*;
2. For new water, call out the Army (if necessary) to get fresh supplies from *somewhere else* (such as Owens or Mono Lakes);
3. For wastewater, find the cheapest way to dump it *somewhere else*.
Orange County Sanitation District has clung to this way of looking at things, and, with San Diego, are the last 2 large water users still trying to ignore their immense past and future population growth.
It's not just the sewage. Class "B" biosolids from Orange County are now trucked hundreds of miles (one-way) since local fields won't accept less than Class "A" (treated) biosolids. San Diego proposed, in a frenzy of bad planning, to float giant plastic bags of fresh water from what's left of the Northern California rivers, instead of reclaiming, recycling, and conservation. This fantastic idea was proposed with such intensity that some lawmakers, led by Assym. Pat Wiggins (D-07, Napa) felt concerned enough to seriously oppose it.
OCSD has an immense amount of money for professional contracts including studies, grants and surveys. Much of that money would be saved, and available for sewage treatment, if OCSD gave up the waiver and performed full prophylactic treatment.
Rather than Prof. Grant's call for "...creating a whole new research field..." of "...coastal water quality science...", responsible, new OC calls instead for adequate use of existing sewage science, and less grants and studies using Ratepayer and Taxpayer money on a never-ending quest to "prove" the sewage plume beneficial.
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