State orders city of Ione to suspend sewer connections

State officials have issued an order barring the city of Ione from allowing any new connections to its wastewater treatment system effective Jan. 21.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board will hold a hearing on the “Cease and Desist Order and Connection Restriction for the City of Ione” at its April 6 through 8 meeting in Rancho Cordova.

“Effective immediately, no new structures may connect to the city of Ione’s wastewater collection system, except those authorized by a building permit … issued prior to the 21 January 2011 Hearing Notice,” wrote Wendy Wyels, a supervisor in the compliance and enforcement section of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board .

City Manager Kim Kerr said she had anticipated the board’s action as the city continues to generate plans and reports to address a “seepage” problem at the city’s treatment facility.

“We’ve been expecting this,” Kerr said. “When we met with the regional board back in September and they did a tour, we talked with Wendy Wyels and she indicated to me … the former cease and desist order was aged … and we needed to address the seepage issue.

“They were looking at our schedule, we had already submitted our report … with the timelines,” explained Kerr. “She told me she was going to adopt our time frames. This means basically we’re getting there.”

Kerr said the letter was sent to update CRWQCB’s previous cease and desist order – issued in 2003 – although the update contains new language prohibiting the city from allowing any new hookups to the wastewater system for the foreseeable future.

“So if somebody … wants to start construction, we can’t issue them a building permit if it’s a facility that’s never been connected to the wastewater system,” said Kerr, who added she was not aware of any projects affected by the order.

A history of the city’s wastewater issues was compiled by Kerr in December. According to Kerr, the original order was issued in 2003 to compel the city to address perceived impacts to groundwater from the treatment plant at 1600 W. Marlette. Effluent seeping from at least one treatment pond in close proximity to the Sutter Creek streambed is at the heart of problem.

In 2005, Ione leaders granted permissions to developers for sewer connections for 1,200 new properties, before discovering in 2006 that it had only enough capacity in the facility for 700 connections.

A lawsuit filed after that discovery led to a settlement in 2007 requiring the city to conduct environmental impact studies before performing any other work at the facility.

In 2009, Ione completed a wastewater master plan and environmental impact report, and sought qualified contractors to construct a new facility, with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the Amador Regional Sanitation Authority anticipated as possible partners.

The city currently treats secondary effluent from Mule Creek State Prison and ARSA to allow it to be used on the Castle Oaks Golf Course. The city has also approached a local manufacturing business, as a potential partner, to receive the city’s treated tertiary effluent to reduce or eliminate the need to store it in ponds. The city’s plan calls for the development of a new facility to clean 0.8 million gallons of wastewater per day to “tertiary” levels. The plan also calls for the decommission of existing storage ponds 1, 2, 3, and 4, fill in portions of 5 and 6 so effluent within them is at least 200 feet from the streambed, and the construction of a new pond. The master plan and all of the attached reports, including information on the issues driving the need for a new facility, are available for review on Ione’s website, www.ione-ca.com.

In March 2010, Ione officials submitted a report to the CRWQCB for a new wastewater treatment permit for plant improvements. Also in 2010, the city sought bids from three qualified contractors who had responded to the city’s call in 2009. Only one contractor responded with a bid, PERC Water, who currently oversees technical operations at the city’s existing plant. Kerr said she is currently working with PERC officials to refine the project to meet a seemingly ever-changing list of concerns from the CRWQCB. To date, the city council has not received a final project description nor an estimate of the cost of construction.

In November 2010, the CRWQCB sent a letter to the city concerning new construction at pond 8, and continued seepage. City officials responded by commissioning an “isotope” study to determine whether or not seepage to Sutter Creek is occurring, and whether or not the wastewater treatment facility, with its associated ponds, is, or is not, a source. Previous testing has been inconclusive in answering these questions to the satisfaction of the CRWQCB. On Wednesday, Kerr said the isotope study has been completed and placed in the hands of a qualified water engineer for evaluation. Results of that evaluation are expected to be presented at the next meeting of the Ione City Council Feb. 1.

If a satisfactory solution to the problem is not reached, the city may be forced to obtain a costly federal permit for the seepage, thinning city coffers even further.

Public meetings on the complicated issues are anticipated to be held beginning in February, according to Kerr, who added that a breakdown of the final design and costs to construct a new plant are also anticipated to be presented for discussion during those public hearings.

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