Boonville’s a Century Late, But…

On Tuesday evening, January 29, 2019, I attended a “Boonville Planners” meeting regarding the water and sewer project for the town of Boonville. The project has been in the works for about four years, although the idea has been around since the 1950s. This current iteration was prompted by Frank Wyant who was frustrated that a water project failed in the 1980s and realized quickly that the new Proposition 1 funds would be a great way to help the town after a 35-year hiatus of available funding. Because of Frank’s push, Boonville was one of the first in line for these funds.

In attendance at this meeting were folks from the North Coast Regional Water Resources Control Board, the County Environmental Health Director, representatives of the Anderson Valley Health Center, a representative of the Mendocino County Planning and Building Department, Ted Williams, Fifth District Supervisor, four members of the Anderson Valley Community Services District (CSD), the project manager for the CSD, plus two engineers and a CEQA (Environmental Review) specialist from Brelje & Race, the engineering company hired to plan the projects. The “Boonville Planners” were in attendance, as well as members of the community, both residents of the town and from the surrounding area.

One of the first to speak was a specialist from the North Coast Water Control Board; he works with towns in Northern California who want to get water and sewer projects with Proposition 1 funds. He gave examples of other towns where growth, even simple growth, wasn’t possible due to the lack of a sewer. One town wanted a deli but could not get one. It is worth noting that our own Health Center cannot expand their services at this time, services being requested by the Community, because their septic system is currently maxed out.

Val Hanelt spoke regarding the financing of the project. She stated that the financing was good, that the private sewer laterals to homes are fully funded. If State Prop 1 funds are not adequate, USDA will also be approached. In addition, we are applying to Mendocino County for Block grant funds to cover the private costs for the drinking water hookups for seniors and low-income folks for the pipes from their homes to their water meters. She noted that subscribers to the systems would face little outlay of expense for installing the infrastructure and that monthly rates would cover Operation and Maintenance.

The next speaker was Chloë Guazzone-Rugebregt from the Anderson Valley Health Center. She spoke about the need for clean water and explained the implications of having contaminated water in the community. She noted that she had previously worked in some third world countries and she was seeing the same problems here in Boonville that she had to deal with in those countries – here, in 2019, in Boonville. Ms. Guazzone-Rugebregt also noted that one of the other big benefits of water infrastructure for the town in addition to health is fire suppression. A nurse-practitioner from the AVHC also spoke up about the disparity in health between the poorest, or Hispanic, members of the town, compared to the more affluent Caucasian members; she stated that the lack of funds for maintaining clean drinking water in their residences appears to be the reason.

The speaker from our North Coast Regional Water Resources Control Board next pointed out that drinking water is impacted not just by e-coli from septic systems but that other things come out in the waste water – medicines, especially hormones, poisons from chemotherapy drugs, cleaning chemicals and so forth. In areas where septic systems are far from water wells this is not such a concern, but in Boonville with the small parcels and proximity of wells and leach fields/septic tanks/cesspools, this is a huge concern.

Another member of the Water Control Board noted that in California it is State policy that all people have a right, a human right, to clean water.

All of this brought up the question of whether or not the various pollutants mentioned above could present a risk to the whole aquifer. The answer was that we have shallow ground water and porous soil, so yes, there is the potential risk of contaminants affecting all water in the area, including the Navarro watershed.

Dave Coleman, the sewer engineer from Brelje & Race, was the next speaker. He opened by noting that at this time there is no treatment site for the sewer since the previous site was nixed by neighbors concerned about odor or spraying. He discussed the three parts of the system – collection, treatment and disposal. The collection system deemed best for Boonville is a centralized system utilizing grinder pumps; there was some discussion in the past about using existing septic tanks, but the State quickly shut that idea down by stating that there would be no funds for such a system. The treatment will be done in a large 12x12x50’ plant where the raw sewage goes in, the solids are gathered and trucked away, and the highly treated liquids (effluent) are dispersed in fields nearly, either by overland spray (and used for hay fields, for example), or by a sub-surface leach field. 

Much discussion occurred regarding the potential smell originating from any sewer system. It turns out that the smells most of us associate with such a system are a thing of the past – or of older systems. Several people in the room commented that newer systems they had been exposed to did not smell at all, including the Francis Ford Coppola winery in Geyserville which has one adjacent to its public areas. The Coppola winery uses the same treatment and disposal system the District is proposing on a smaller scale. People are encouraged to go visit and see if they noticed any discernable odors.

Drinking water was next addressed by Jack Locey of Brelje & Race, the engineer for this portion of the project. He stated that Boonville has two water needs – safe drinking water and fire suppression. The water will be provided by ground water wells spread throughout the Valley. The wells will be in clusters and each cluster will have a small treatment plant to treat whatever that cluster needs (for example manganese or iron) then, after purification, that water will go from those well clusters into the main distribution system. It will be pressurized by gravity feed from tanks on a hill on the South end of town throughout the town and down to the Elementary School. There will actually be two pipes down Anderson Valley Way – a large one for the hydrants for fire suppression and a smaller one for drinking water. It is worth noting that the State will not fund the project if fire suppression is not included. This includes adequate pressure for installing sprinkler systems in new construction and for hydrants every 500 ft. throughout the system.

The total cost for the entire project is estimated at $18.3 million for Drinking Water and $13.5 million for Sewer totaling approximately $32 million– an amazing amount of money; however, even more amazing is that all but $2- $4 million of this has been found.

The last speaker was Anderson Valley Volunteer Fire Department Chief Andres Avila. He was brief: in terms of fire suppression, if this system is put into place “we will move into the 20th Century.” Not the 21st but at least out of the 19th. Chief Avila noted that the area is overdue for a big fire and that water is a big issue. The current biggest fire truck carries enough water for five minutes. That is not a lot of water! He also noted that if we have actual fire hydrants in town the cost of fire insurance for folks with this service will receive large discounts. Finally, Chief Avila remarked that new fire regulations from the State will deeply impact any further growth in town. 

One final question of the evening had to do with rates. There will be a charge for operation and maintenance of the systems and this is estimated to be between $45-65/month for waste water. The cost for clean drinking water is currently unknown. Whatever the rates end up being, they are set for five years. Any increases will have to be approved in the same process as the initial approval of the project.

An incredible amount of work has been put into this project over the past several years. It is amazing that it is within a year or two of when the land owners in Boonville will be presented with the choice of whether or not to proceed. It hasn’t quite taken 100 years, but we are getting awfully close! 

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