State May Fine South County Spewers of Ocean Waste $204,000

The South Orange County Wastewater Authority, which collects, treats, reuses and disposes of waste water for 10 South County agencies, and the South Coast Water District, an independent agency that serves the water and sewer needs of 40,000 residents in Dana Point, South Laguna and north San Clemente, face a $204,000 fine from the state's Regional Water Control Board.

According to the board's San Diego Region staff, the SOCWA and SCWD violated state permit restrictions concerning the discharge of brine and waste water from the district's Groundwater Recovery Facility and into the San Juan Creek Ocean Outfall. The board will consider imposing, modifying or suspending the recommended fine when it meets in San Diego on Wednesday.
The facility treats low-quality groundwater to produce potable water, but that process also generates extremely salty waste water whose re-entry into the creek's ocean mouth is regulated under the state permit that became effective in October 2006.

The regional board's assistant executive officer issued an Administrative Civil Liability Complaint against the two agencies on Feb. 27 for 68 alleged violations of "total suspended solids, settleable solids, and turbidity effluent limitations that occurred from August 2007 through October 2008."  

According to the board's agenda, SOCWA has not refuted the violations but did inform the regional board's prosecution team that it intended to exercise its right to a public hearing on the complaint.  On April 24, the SOCWA provided evidence it claims refutes the claim's recommended liability. The prosecution team says it will respond to that evidence Wednesday.

Here is the board's Enforcement Summary Report.

Roger Butow, who monitors these agencies and others for the South Laguna-based Clean Water Now! Coalition and the Friends of the Aliso Creek Steelhead environmental groups he founded, claims the two agencies are used to state fines for sewage spills and other water-quality violations.

"This is why water quality activists don't trust water and sanitation districts in South Orange County," Butow writes in an email. "This is also why we don't trust SCWD to divert and properly convert Aliso Creek stream water for landscape purposes. Its history of ineptitude, cutting corners and subsequent state-ordered sanctions don't provide the public with much confidence regarding health and safety issues."


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