Environmental Press # 99

Subj: OOG: San Diego Waiver News Article
Date: 8/12/2002 12:38:49 AM Pacific Daylight Time
From: Jon V3
To: Jon V3

Dear Ocean Outfall Group (OOG), dedicated to ending the 301(h) waiver held by Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD), San Diego, Goleta and Morro Bay:

See article about the San Diego waiver in the following link, with text below. As you can see, we are being given credit for our work up here. Meanwhile, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is meeting this week, on August 15, Thursday, 9 AM, in Sacramento. If anyone can go, let me know, although I must tell you that the SWRCB is not allowing any public comment. It appears the SWRCB is going to rubber-stamp the staff recommendation, which is to reverse the RWQCB decision to ratchet down the mass emissions. For some reason, San Diego and the SWRCB are hell-bent-for-leather to keep their rights to pollute the ocean as much as they have been and more. This is clearly contrary to the anti-degradation policies of federal law. Hopefully, we can get a coalition of environmental groups to contest this illegality.

Jan Vandersloot (949) 548-6326


Decision on sewage treatment may cause ripples here

San Diego Union Tribune, August 5, 2002

"Decision on sewage treatment may cause ripples here"

"Orange County won't seek waiver"

By Terry Rodgers

August 5, 2002

San Diego's effort to renew its exemption from more stringent sewage treatment appears assured of success, but regaining the special federal waiver in the future may not be easy. A landmark vote by the Orange County Sanitation District last month to abandon its waiver underscores how quickly the public's acceptance of sewage discharges into the ocean can erode, especially if there's a hint the bacteria-laden effluent could be contaminating beaches. The federal waiver allows sewage agencies to use a less-costly treatment method that removes slightly less microscopic solids and bacteria than the two-step, or secondary, process required under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Orange County's decision could leave San Diego as the nation's largest metropolitan area that has not converted to secondary treatment. The vast majority of the nation's sewer agencies, about 16,000, have upgraded to secondary. Thirty-six sewage agencies nationwide hold 5-year waivers allowing lesser treatment. Orange County is the largest, followed by San Diego."There's a new ocean ethic emerging in this country," said Chris Evans, executive director of the Surfrider Foundation, which campaigned against renewal of Orange County's waiver."There won't be any waivers in five years," he said. "They're a vestige of the past. Those days are over. Waivers are dinosaurs that are dying out."Since 1977, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been allowed to grant waivers to sewer agencies that can prove the lesser treatment will not harm the environment or pose a risk to public health. In California, any waiver must also be approved by state water regulators and the state Coastal Commission. San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy acknowledged that Orange County's decision could have a ripple effect here."I think there may be more political pressure for San Diego to go to secondary treatment," said Murphy."However, the Clean Water Act clearly allows for a modified permit, and the science soundly supports San Diego's position that our (treated sewer discharge) has no adverse impact on the environment," he said. Bottom line: If monitoring continues to show no harm to the ocean and the bacteria-laden treated sewage is not drifting back to shore, San Diego will seek renewal of its waiver."As long as science supports our position, we should not deviate from the path we have been following," Murphy said. The circumstances that created a groundswell of public opinion against Orange County's waiver don't exist in San Diego, he said."In Orange County, there was a concern that their sewage was contaminating the shoreline," he said. "In San Diego, there is no evidence our sewage is washing back to the shore."Orange County Sanitation District discharges a daily average of 240 million gallons of sewage effluent, about half of which is treated to secondary standards. The outfall pipeline extends 4 miles offshore from the Santa Ana River mouth, the approximate boundary between Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, and discharges the effluent in about 200 feet of water. For the past few years, tourist-dependent Huntington Beach has been plagued by frequent beach contamination postings and closures due to an unidentified source of bacteria. While current evidence points away from sewage effluent as the likely bacteria source, it's possible that currents could occasionally push it near shore. This kernel of doubt became a hammer for Orange County environmentalists opposed to renewal of the waiver. The Metropolitan Wastewater Department, which treats sewage from nearly 2 million residents from San Diego and 15 suburban communities, discharges a daily average of 175 million gallons of advanced primary treated sewage through a 41/2-mile-long outfall in 310 feet of water off Point Loma. While San Diego's advanced primary treatment removes about 85 percent of suspended solids – roughly the same level as secondary treatment – it doesn't remove as much bacteria and oxygen-depleting organic material as the two-step method. Since San Diego's outfall was extended in 1993, scientific monitoring has detected no significant harm to marine life on the ocean floor, nor has there been any change in fish populations. Unlike Orange County's dilemma, there's no evidence the sewage discharged off Point Loma is returning to shore."We've had 15,000 samples taken over the past eight years that have told us the effluent plume is not reaching our beaches," said Alan Langworthy, Metro Wastewater's deputy director. Upgrading San Diego's sewage treatment system to secondary would cost nearly $4 billion, Metro Wastewater officials said."There's no evidence this expenditure of money will have any impact whatsoever on water quality," said San Diego Councilman Scott Peters, an environmental attorney. "So our focus has been to concentrate on the real problem, which is our sewer pipes."Over the next decade, San Diego is poised to spend $1 billion to upgrade its antiquated sewer collection system, ranked by the Environmental Protection Agency as one of the worst in the West for sewage spills from 1997 to 2001. In San Diego, sewage spills and contaminated urban runoff are the leading causes of beach closures. While no one disputes the need to improve the reliability of the city's sewer pipes, there continues to be disagreement about the environmental effects of millions of gallons of treated sewage."We are putting pollutants into the ocean," said San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye. "We just don't know what the impacts of the viruses and pathogens are yet."Evans of the Surfrider Foundation also believes the massive nutrient loads from treated sewage could be having undetected effects on the ocean's ecosystem."It is unquestionably unhealthy to the marine environment to dump sewage, treated or otherwise, into the ocean," said Evans. Massive discharges of nutrient-rich sewage effluent could be changing the chemistry of the ocean and creating changes that have yet to be fully understood, he said. San Diego lawyer Bruce Henderson, a former city councilman who favored the city's first waiver, said there's scientific evidence that treated sewage is having the opposite effect of what environmentalists claim."We're adding nutrients in a way that's beneficial to the environment," said Henderson.U.S. Rep. Bob Filner said he has yet to see any erosion of political support for San Diego's waiver."There's been no political challenge. There's no council member, no supervisor, no member of Congress calling for (abandoning the waiver)," Filner said. Mayor Murphy said he's not so overconfident that he can't envision that someday that support could slowly deflate like a leaking balloon."I think every five years, it will get harder," he said. "At some point down the line, that hurdle will be so difficult that we will have to consider some other alternative."Terry Rodgers: (619) 542-4566; terry.rodgers@uniontrib.com Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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