Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater

The west county sewage shuffle dates back to 1997, with Occidental under orders to stop releasing treated wastewater into a Russian River tributary.|

Guerneville is out and Graton is now in as a potential destination for Occidental’s wastewater.

What may sound like west county musical chairs is actually the latest chapter in a 20-year effort to find an alternative for Occidental’s wastewater treatment plant, which has been under state orders since 1997 to quit discharging treated effluent into Dutch Bill Creek, a Russian River tributary and coho salmon spawning stream.

A plan to send five to 15 truckloads of untreated wastewater a day up Bohemian Highway to Guerneville was scrapped in response to protests from Guerneville residents, and officials are now considering delivery to Graton, where the local community services district has issued what amounts to an invitation.

“We’re taking a look at what might be a better option,” said Ann DuBay of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which operates the Occidental and Guerneville treatment systems and six others in the county.

Engineers are working out the details of the Occidental-to-Graton transfer between two small, rural communities, with a recommendation expected to go to the Board of Supervisors in the fall, said Cordel Stillman, the Water Agency’s deputy chief engineer.

The plan will be informally introduced at a town hall meeting held by west county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins in April or early May, officials said.

“We still have to get feedback from residents,” said David Clemmer, president of the Graton Community Services District, which operates the wastewater system serving about 450 homes and a few businesses in the unincorporated Graton area.

Clemmer said Friday he and Jose Ortiz, the district’s general manager, have discussed the concept with Water Agency officials, and will bring it up at Monday’s district board meeting.

Stillman said the Graton option would have a one-time cost of about $1.4 million - the same as the Guerneville project - and would similarly involve ferrying wastewater with a pair of 5,000-gallon water trucks. The trucks would haul Occidental’s wastewater east on Graton Road to the edge of Graton, then north on Ross Road to the Graton plant in a rural area along Ross Lane.

If Occidental’s output exceeded five trucks a day, the additional wastewater would be delivered to another county-operated facility next to the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, Stillman said.

The price tag is far lower than the $6 million cost of upgrading Occidental’s treatment plant and piping the effluent to a storage pond on a nearby vineyard.

State regulators have given the Occidental district a Jan. 31, 2018 deadline to quit discharging into Dutch Bill Creek, a date that may have to be renegotiated with state regulators, DuBay said.

As long as Occidental has an alternative in the works, the state likely will concur, she said.

Graton’s plant is located on a wooded, 20-acre site surrounded by residential parcels of a half-acre to 4 acres, Clemmer said.

The Graton district’s incentive is financial, he said, since Occidental would pay for water treatment by its neighbor.

The amount hasn’t been determined, but Clemmer said he hopes it could lead to a reduction of the yearly $1,574 annual sewage treatment fee paid by Graton district customers.

Occidental’s sanitation district, which serves about 118 parcels clustered along Bohemian Highway, has the highest rate in the county - and among the highest in the state - at $2,086 a year.

Graton’s plant provides tertiary treatment of wastewater, the highest level of sewage processing. Occidental’s plant would need an expensive upgrade to achieve tertiary treatment.

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