Septage crisis looms
Doug Ames, the county’s environmental health director, said homes with septic tanks that need pumping cannot be sold because his staff can’t sign off on septic tank inspections.
“When there are mortgage inspections that we do and there’s a septic tank that needs pumping, we can’t sign it off when they don’t have any place to pump it or dispose of it,” Ames said.
“Boy do I wish we had a quick fix, but there just isn’t any,” he told the board at its May 15 meeting. “We won’t be able to fix it as quickly as we’d like to.”
Ames said the county just lost the only current location for septage disposal, the Quincy Community Services District. Ames called the loss a critical problem.
“They’ve cut us off,” Ames said. “We have no place to dispose of our septic waste right now.”
Because the Quincy CSD plant was operating beyond capacity and its designed lifespan, and cannot meet new water quality standards, it may get shut down. He said an engineering study found the QCSD plant in violation of the National Pollution Elimination Discharge Permit standards. Ames said he thought Lassen County had two years to find a new site, so the QCSD cutoff took him by surprise.
District 3 Supervisor Lloyd Keefer asked where the next closest septage plant is located.
“Are we talking about Nevada somewhere?” Keefer asked.
“Probably,” Ames said.
“Which is going to increase the cost to the homeowner,” Keefer said.
Lassen County’s septage has been going to Quincy since a plant in Westwood shut down more than eight years ago when the ponds overflowed during a very wet winter.
Ames said Westwood Sanitation still has the capacity to dewater septage, but only in the summer months. He said septage is about 90 percent water, so dewatering takes the majority of the weight and volume out of the septage.
Westwood Sanitation then applies the septage on a rancher’s land. State law allows entities to apply septage on a rancher’s property.
Two ranchers on the board, District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle and District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson, both shook their heads and said no when Ames asked if they knew any ranchers willing to receive septage.
“I just found out this morning that this was cut off entirely, but we have a critical problem. I cannot solve this alone,” Ames said.
The county desperately needs an in-county site to take septage, money for engineering studies and approval from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, he said.
“We’ve got to come before you soon with some options, but if the county has any land in the desert or wants to get involved in this process, we desperately need a place to get our septage disposed of,” Ames said.
Big Valley Septage uses ponds in Bieber and Ames said he was having his staff check to see if there is any more capacity at the Bieber ponds.
“What’s generally happening with all sewage treatment facilities like ponds, and so on, is they’re getting cut off,” he said.
Engineer Fred Nagel proposed such a facility in Wendel in 1997. But Ames said zoning issues and complaints from the public killed Nagel’s project and Nagel has since sold the land.
“If we had that, we wouldn’t have a problem,” Ames told the board.
Keefer said there’s already a problem at Janesville Park.
“We have to pump the tank again,” he said. “And we’ve got port-a-potties. So the private vendors, where are they going to go?”
Ames said another local septage company, Sierra Septic lost its truck last year after its brakes and went across Highway 395 and out into a field.
“This is a terrible issue because basically, we have no place to dispose of our septage, no place,” he said.
He asked the board if the county has any desert land that might be converted into a septage receiving site. Ames said the desert is perfect because it doesn’t get much moisture and what it gets dries up quickly because of the high evaporative index.
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