Sewer districts can improve, jury says

06/26/2014

A recent civil grand jury report on Marin’s sewer systems describes “unacceptable” levels of sewage spills and aging infrastructure that will likely require the replacement of hundreds of lines of pipe in the near future. The jury undertook the report, “The Scoop on Marin County Sewer Systems,” because of the amount of taxpayer money—about $77 million, or half of property tax and fee revenues—that goes toward sewer services. Although the primary goal of most sewer systems is to prevent wastewater spills, there have been 688,548 gallons of sewage spilled in Marin from 2011 to 2013. Only a tiny fraction, 300 gallons in 2011, was spilled in West Marin, and that took place in Bolinas. Most of the spills—367,000 gallons—came from the Ross Valley Services District. (The district reached a $1.5 million settlement with the Regional Water Quality Control Board for earlier spills, mostly in 2010, that amounted to three million gallons.) “[M]ost districts in Marin are adjacent to bodies of water; we therefore have a greater challenge and responsibility to prevent spills and protect our environment,” the jury wrote. A number of sewer district general managers told the jury that the county had older pipes than most other Bay Area counties; the San Rafael Sanitary District, for instance, has pipes that are 140 years old. Some of Bolinas’s pipes, the jury said, are 100 years old, though a BCPUD operations manual says the entire system was sliplined in 1990 and all the laterals—the smaller pipes that convey wastewater from homes to the main line—were replaced. Tomales Village Community Services District’s oldest pipes, on the other hand, are less than 40 years old; they’ve had no spills, though the agency has said that sometime in the next five to 10 years they will need to slipline the whole system. The report also said that the two sewer districts in West Marin had a few missing documents; neither the Bolinas Community Public Utility District nor the Tomales Village Community Services District, they said, had capital improvement plans as required by the State Water Resources Control Board, financial reserve polices or overflow response training manuals, though they do have response plans. It also said Tomales’s Sewer System Management Plan hadn’t been audited, as required by the regional water quality board. Karl Drexel, the administrator for the district, said the audit wasn’t due yet; when it is, in August, it will be submitted. His district, he added, is in the process of working on a capital improvement plan. The Light was unable to reach a BCPUD representative for comment. — Samantha Kimmey