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New environmental rules for the Sacramento sewer district mean that local residents and businesses will be forced to pay high fees, according to opponents of the regulations.
But the new restrictions approved Thursday night will likely be viewed by many others as a big win for clean water and the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Five members of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state regulatory body that oversees water quality in the region, unanimously set new restrictions on the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District just before 11 p.m. on Thursday night. A crowd of more than 330 people gathered for the meeting in Rancho Cordova, which started at 8:30 a.m. Everyone from state senators to farmers had a view on the issue. About 100 people were still in attendance at around 6 p.m.
The state’s decision to establish the new rules means that the district will have to overhaul its wastewater systems and pass on the cost to residents and businesses, according to the sanitation district.
The state regulators and the sewer district clashed over all the major issues raised in Thursday’s hearing. There was no consensus between the regulators and the sewer district on the scientific need for the new rules, nor on the costs.
Stan Dean, the district engineer of the sanitation district, said the district estimated that monthly fees for residents could jump to $61.50 from the current fee of $20.00 over the next 10 years. Fees to connect a new property to the sewer system, known as a “connection fee” or an “impact fee,” could eventually rise to $35,000 from the current rate of $7,450, according to the district’s estimates.
Connecting an infill property to the sewer system could eventually cost $13,000, up from the current rate of $2,800, the district estimated.
“We will have to regroup and figure out if we have any next steps on it,” Dean said after the decision. He said the district has the option of appealing the decision to another state body, the Water Resources Control Board.
Asked if the district’s next steps could include litigation, Dean said the district would decide on that “down the road.”
The district estimated that the total costs would be about $2 billion. Meanwhile, the regulators cited estimates from firms that the total costs would be $1.2 billion or $1.3 billion.
Ken Landau, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, commented on the environmental issues after the vote.
“Recent science and studies show that the ammonia from the discharge is harming the Delta ecosystem,” Landau said. (And) the pathogens or disease-causing organisms are increasing the health risk to the people and the river. And there are issues associated with the nitrates impacting downstream drinking-water uses. What this permit (to the sewer district) does is give an enforceable time schedule (and) and sets limits to resolve those impacts to the environment.”
Residents and businesses in Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Folsom, Elk Grove, Citrus Heights, West Sacramento and the unincorporated part of Sacramento County are in the sewer district’s jurisdiction and will pay any rate hikes the district approves.
“We certainly have an ailing economy,” Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said at Thursday’s meeting, “and this certainly impacts us in a very adverse way.”
While many speakers made their case against the fees at the Thursday hearing, environmental health was the primary concern of many others.
In comments before she voted, Sopac Mulholland, a member of the board that set the new regulations, said the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is suffering from excessive pollution.
“The Delta is in collapse,” Mulholland said. “And I think that we ... do have a feasible technology to eliminate the probable cause of pollution that’s being contributed by the sanitation district to the collapse of the Delta.”
Landau said the sewer district will now be required to remodel its sewage treatment plant. He said it will probably take 10 years for the district to design, build and operate the new plant and completely meet the state’s new restrictions on releasing pollutants.
“Many of their costs are way down the line,” Landau said.
But earlier in the meeting, Dean challenged the district’s scientific findings. “Let the science drive the permit, not the fear of the unknown,” he said in his presentation.
Photos of the scene at the hearing by Kathleen Haley.
Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.