$49,000 fine for Donner Summit utility discharge
DONNER SUMMIT “-Donner Summit’s utility district is facing $49,000 in fines for nitrate and ammonia discharges into the Yuba River.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has levied the fines against the Donner Summit Public Utility District for exceeding limits on nitrates and ammonia in treated effluent discharged into the headwaters of the South Yuba River.
The $49,000 figure is comprised of eight violations at $3,000 a-piece and $25,000 in discretionary penalties tied to an algae bloom that occurred on the Yuba River last summer, said Tom Skjelstad, general manager for the district.
“As far as the main penalties … we are not going to protest those,” Skjelstad said. “But frankly we were surprised at the dollar amount of the discretionary penalty.”
Skjelstad said that while the district’s discharge was likely responsible in part for the algae bloom, other factors may have also contributed.
“There were algae outbreaks all of the Sierra last summer,” Skjelstad said.
The district has asked to meet with the water board with the hope of negotiating the $25,000 discretionary penalty down, Skjelstad said.
But Gary Reedy, river science director for the South Yuba River Citizens League, said the utility district’s problems go beyond the summer’s algae bloom.
“They’ve had 74 violations between 2000 and 2006,” Reedy said. “And they still haven’t make the operating improvements when they were given five years, and now they’re getting their hand slapped.”
The nitrate limit of 10 milligrams per liter is set for drinking water, and while that isn’t the issue in the Yuba headwaters, it also affects wildlife, Reedy said.
Reedy said excessive nitrogen levels in the Yuba River can change the ecology from algae and macro invertebrates to reduced trout populations and increasing invasive species.
Skjelstad said if the fine stays at the full $49,000 amount, it could make a sizable dent in the district’s $1.5-1.8 million budget.
“I don’t think it will affect rates this year, but it could have residual effects in the 09-10 budget,” he said.
The district is in the process of getting a new permit from the water board, Skjelstad said, expanding to serve already approved lots on the summit.
Reedy said the South Yuba River Citizens League hopes the water board will require the district to improve before expanding.
“First and foremost they need to improve the plant at current flow rates,” Reedy said. “If they want to then do bigger scale and can still meet those requirements I have no problem with that.”
Go to http://www.dspud.com for more information.
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