News Feature | May 3, 2017

Modesto Placed On Notice By State After Wastewater Discharge

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

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The city of Modesto, CA, was issued a notice of violation last month for discharging an estimated 755 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the San Joaquin River.

The city’s sewer system had been overwhelmed by storms and rising water.

The Modesto Bee reported that “The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s April 13 notice of violation asks Modesto to provide the board with documents, including sewer system inspection and maintenance records for the past two years and paperwork on the steps the city has taken and will take to fix the problem that led to the discharge.”

Modesto could face fines as large as $10,000 per day for each day that wastewater was discharged and $10 for each gallon discharged. However, water board official Andrew Altevogt stated that “it is too soon to consider fines because his agency has not yet received and reviewed the city’s records.”

Altevogt added that about 50 wastewater treatment plants within the water board’s jurisdiction “have violated their discharge permits because of heavy rain and flooding from the rainy season. Notices of violations have been sent to other cities and treatment plant operators.”

The stormwater overflow issues in Modesto go back beyond last month. The Bee reported “that in February sewer flows into its Sutter Avenue wastewater treatment plant on the Tuolumne River doubled.” Days later, Modesto discovered that “a huge hole in a major sewer line along the Tuolumne was submerged by the swollen river.”

The city is in the process of making permanent repairs. Meanwhile, Modesto continues to have more wastewater than it can store.

The ultimate solution will be “a project that will replace the sewer line with a new one that is not in the floodplain. The project includes a way to divert the cannery segregation line flow if needed. The project is in the design stage and could be completed in 2023.”

Stormwater overflows are nothing new. Also last month, Springfield, CT, experienced problems with its sewage system. The system pumped large amounts of pollution into the Connecticut River, which in turn sends it flowing south through the state and into the Long Island Sound.

The Hartford Courant reported that Springfield’s storm drains flush heavy rains into pipes which create a combined sewer outflow that can mix together raw and untreated sewage. That mixture carries excess nitrogen into the river. The fact that this is allowed, according to environmentalists, is the result of “outdated federal permits — which were last issued in 2001 and were supposed to expire in 2005.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Stormwater Management Solutions Center.

Image credit: "30303-013: Karnataka Urban Development and Coastal Environmental Management Project in India, November 2012" Asian Development Bank © 2012 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/