Investigator to look into sewage spills

February 8, 2008 12:58:38 PM PST
The directors of the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin announced they will hire an investigator to look into the two spills of more than 5 million gallons of partially treated sewage and storm water from its treatment plant into Richardson Bay last month.

Jack Govi, assistant Marin County counsel and the attorney for the sewerage agency board, said a short list of names will be compiled and an investigator will be selected Wednesday evening. Govi said there is no estimate how long the investigation will take, but he would like to see it completed in a month.

The California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Region are also investigating the spills.

"Their investigations can take some time. We decided it's best that we find out all the answers to both spills," Govi said this morning.

William Rukeyser, director of public affairs with the State Water Resources Control Board, part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said there is no specific time line yet for the state's investigation of the spills but "we're talking weeks or months."

Lila Tang, manager of wastewater permits with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, said investigators were at the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin's Mill Valley treatment plant Thursday. She said the investigation into the spills is a priority and will take "a couple more weeks."

"We want this to be done quicker than normal and we need information from the agency," she said this morning.

The California Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board's role in the reporting of the Jan. 25 spill that released 2.45 million gallons of sewage into the Bay.

The sewerage agency reported the spill by e-mail to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board on Jan. 26 but the date of the spill was incorrectly given as Jan. 15 and the e-mail did not indicate the amount of sewage spilled.

A regional board staff member thought the spill was an old incident and did not follow up on the e-mail. The regional board received notification of the spill with its correct date through conventional mail on Jan. 30 but the regional board's staff member did not detect the date error.

"They're (state EPA officials) investigating our response practices. We're always looking to improve them," Tang said. "We're not a first responder. We're more of a regulatory agency."

The second spill from the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin's Mill Valley treatment plant occurred Jan. 31 around 5:30 p.m. when only two of four pumps were used to process storm water and partially treated sewage. That discharged 2.7 million gallons of partially treated sewage and storm water into Richardson Bay via Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio.

An alarm company that was to personally inform Stephen Danehy, general manager of the sewerage agency, of the spill left a voice message instead. A plant worker monitoring the plant's operations on a computer detected the spill around 8:30 p.m. The spill did not become public information until around noon Feb. 1.

The latest tests of water quality in the Richardson Bay showed compliance with state water quality standards, and authorities are no longer advising against water contact at most Marin beaches. Restrictions are still in effect for the Tiburon waterfront because of slightly high bacteria levels and more tests are scheduled Monday.


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