State Water Board Comes to Boonville

Joy Wildflower from Regional Water Quality Control Board offices in Santa Rosa came to Anderson Valley last Thursday to discuss the pending water and wastewater projects and, more specfically, the item I wrote last week about increased water testing for commercial establishments in Boonville.

Ms. Wildflower told the Community Services District’s Water/Wastewater standing committee that her agency had surveyed local businesses after reading about the contamination problems in Anderson Valley in the Press Democrat back in 2016 after the CSD’s local testing showed elevated levels of coliform and nitrates in most of the two dozen tests they ran in the more densely populated parts of Boonville.

Ms. Wildflower also said that there were some staffing shortages at the County’s Environmental Health office, which had been conducting oversight before her vigilant agency noted the Press Democrat article, and they simply decided it was time to do the surveys which had heretofore not been done.

The surveys asked local "public serving facilities" about their operations and numbers of customers. Then the state water sleuths ran the replies through their “decision tree” and, when the tree leaves rendered their findings so to speak, Boonville restaurants found themselves ratcheted up into more demanding categories. Ms. Wildflower handed out copies of their “decision tree” and copies of some pages from the state water regulations used to classify the Boonville commercial operations. (We'd reproduce the decision tree if it lent itself to reproduction, which its size and branches don't.) 

Several businesses were recategorized as “transient non-community water systems (TNCWS).” Essentially, each local business with its own well which serves at least 25 people per year falls into this category (as do many households for that matter), so they have to pay annual fees to the Water Quality Board for the privilege of state testing as well as monthly sampling and submission of results.

When asked if there was any specific problem that caused the classification and increased testing, Ms. Wildflower said, No, it was simply the application of the criteria. (The decision tree is a preposterously garbled and acronymed diagram whose findings, at least to us, would be less reliable than those rendered by, say, the I Ching.)

As CSD Board Chair Valerie Hanelt summarized the process: “Bureaucracy is bureaucracy.” Layers of which can be fatal to small businesses.

Most of the rest of the meeting was a re-hash of previous information about the drinking and wastewater projects, currently in the late planning stages. However there were a few new, if minor, developments.

Ms. Hanelt mentioned that because Boonville is an “economically depressed” community, the state grant funds will cover the cost of construction AND the laterals (pipes) from the main pipe to the residences for both systems if the voters/property owners in the proposed service district approve by vote. Ms. Hanelt added that operation and maintenance costs may also be subsidized via another statewide water bond proposition headed for the ballot in the next year or two.

Hanelt said again that they don't have specific numbers yet but because Boonville is considered very low income, they don’t expect the monthly cost of hookups to be much over $50 (or $100 for both), although the engineers are still working on the cost estimates.

The District is continuing to prepare preliminary agreements with several local property owners for existing or new wells which would become active if the drinking water project is approved. They currently expect about 16 local wells in several “well clusters” to contribute to the drinking water system.

Ms. Hanelt also noted that there are still several more public meetings to be held and a full CEQA (environmental assessment) document to be finished, reviewed and approved. 

Planners still do not have a site for the treatment and distribution of the processed wastewater and may have to separate the wastewater project from the drinking water project to proceed.

Lambert Lane resident Bob Abeles asked about properties where trailers and double-wides are also on a parcel and whether they would be hooked up. Ms. Hanelt said that only permitted buildings would be hooked up to the system. Mr. Abeles said that it seemed like the effect of that would be to eliminate some housing in the Valley, which is already woefully short of shelter. Ms. Hanelt said that may be true, but that there may also be more infill housing because of the ability to hookup to water and sewer lines. 

Several commercial but now abandoned parcels would also be rebuildable if they have water and wastewater hookups available. But Mr. Abeles pointed out that the net effect could be the elimination of some low-cost (unpermitted) housing as an unintended consequence.

The CSD’s water/wastewater standing committee meets the first Thursday of every month at 10:30am at the Boonville firehouse. The District has posted a substantial amount of project info, including a Frequently Asked Questions section addressing most of the issues raised last week, on their website at: http://www.avcsd.org/watersewer.php

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