Information provided by the City of San Juan Bautista
San Juan Bautista announced it reached a settlement with the Regional Water Quality Control Board for the Central Coast Region (“Regional Board”) regarding the payment of mandatory minimum penalties under California Water Code section 13385 for alleged violations of the City’s expired 2009 Wastewater Permit, reaching back more than a decade, related to the city’s treated municipal wastewater discharged into No-Name Creek.
“For a variety of reasons, the city agreed to a settlement instead of proceeding to a hearing before the Regional Board,” the release said.
It went on to state the settlement includes relief for some of the fines and a suspension of future fines and penalties until the force-main project is build. It added The Regional Board agreed to remove 37 of the oldest violations and not issuing penalties for those alleged violations. The Regional Board also agreed to allow the city to retain and apply a significant number of penalties to the costs of the Project.”
In August of 2020, the San Juan Bautista and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) reached agreement on addressing the same problems alleged by the Regional Board, the release said. San Juan Bautista agreed to fund an $18 million force-main project to send the city’s wastewater to Hollister’s Waste Water Treatment Plant, which will end the city’s reliance upon a discharge into the creek (and any further violations).
“However, the Regional Board has independent enforcement authority over the exact same issues as were resolved in the US-EPA settlement and the Regional Board exercised that authority by seeking substantial fines and penalties from the city, which amounted to nearly one million dollars,” San Juan Bautista said.
According to the release, the EPA settlement includes removing the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant effluent discharge from the creek, import and blend with its municipal water supply water from the West Hills Water Treatment Plant and resolve all penalties and alleged violations.
To fund the corrective Project, the release said the city approved a substantial rate increase on December 14, 2021.
San Juan Bautista said the project’s design is 90% complete and is anticipated to break ground in the Summer of 2022 and be completed by November 2023.
“This will solve the first concern regarding discharge to the creek,” the release said.
It went on to say the Regional Board’s second concern is related to salt in the water supply. The release said most of the problems originate with the city’s well water, which is hard and contains a high level of salt.
“The salt content of the water is further exacerbated by the water softeners which citizens use to treat the hard water, which adds more salt to the wastewater, which after treatment goes into the creek,” the release said. “The salt content of the wastewater cannot be fully treated by the city’s current wastewater treatment system and would require hundreds of millions of dollars of advanced treatment to adequately reduce salt before being sent to the creek.”
San Juan Bautista said it chose a less costly alternative to close its Wastewater Treatment Plant and send its municipal wastewater to Hollister’s plant instead.
“Further, the city will reduce salt by diversifying and improving the source of water used by our citizens,” the release said. “This will result in providing better drinking water to our citizens. However, until the project is complete or the permit is reissued, the city will continue to be subjected to the outdated and overly stringent permit requirements related to salt which, should the city not meet certain project milestones, could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional fines to the city even after the settlement.”
According to the release, since January 2019, the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant has improved its performance and has experienced quarters with no reported exceedances. It added that in 2020, the city adopted a prohibition against brine-producing water softeners and has since participated in a water softener buyback program to reduce the salt content of the wastewater, and that it recently adopted its new rate structure requiring 14% increases annually and up to a 70% increase over 5 years.
“The city will do everything in its power to avoid increasing rates again and appreciates being able to work with the Regional Board to this end,” the release said.
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