Sonoma Co. sanitation district fined for sewage spills

July 17, 2010 1:15:57 PM PDT
The Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District was fined $348,400 Thursday for 37 sewage overflows over three years.

Since Jan. 31, 2007, 930,077 gallons of sewage were discharged and not recovered, according to The California Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Region, which issued the fine.

The civil liability complaint does not include the spill of 20,000 gallons of sewage from a ruptured pipe into Sonoma Creek south of Glen Ellen Monday. The spill was initially estimated at 12,000 gallons.

The Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District must respond to the complaint by Aug. 16. The district's board of directors will decide how to respond during a public hearing Aug. 13, said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Sonoma County Water Agency Chairwoman and Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District Board Member Valerie Brown took issue with the fine in a news release.

"Every penny of District rate payer's dollars should be spent on continuing to replace our sewer collection system, not sending it to Sacramento in the form if a fine," said Brown, who also is the Sonoma County supervisor who represents the Sonoma Valley area.

Brown said the sanitation district is aware its collection system needs repair and developed a capital improvement plan in 2002.

The Sonoma County Water Agency assumed responsibility for managing the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District in 2005 and has spent more than $17 million on improvement projects for the treatment plant and wastewater collection system, Sherwood said.

The projects significantly improved the quality of treated wastewater, reduced water quality violations and won the treatment plant several industry awards, Sherwood said.

Monday's sewage spill happened in an 8-inch diameter pipe 18 inches below the Sonoma Creek bed when its concrete casing eroded, Sherwood said.

Officials believe an object moving downstream struck the exposed metal pipe and made a 3- to 4-inch gash.

Water agency workers fitted a metal sleeve around the pipe and poured more than a yard of concrete around it, Sherwood said. The pipe is still out of service and sewage is flowing through a parallel pipe, Sherwood said.

Signs were posted along the creek advising people to stay out of the water. The latest tests on the creek's water quality are expected back early next week, Sherwood said this afternoon.

The water agency said it's not believed fish or wildlife were harmed by the spill.


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