Santa Rosa proclaims flood emergency after 250 million gallons of treated sewage released into streams
Santa Rosa officials said Tuesday that managers at the city’s wastewater plant have been forced to release at least 250 million gallons of treated sewage into two creeks and the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa amid record inflow to the facility that began in last week’s storm.
The three-day deluge pushed more than five times the normal flow of wastewater and runoff into the city’s Laguna de Santa Rosa plant, City Manager Sean McGlynn told the City Council on Tuesday. It was the highest inflow ever recorded at the site, according to the city.
To avoid overwhelming the Llano Road facility, managers began last Wednesday releasing fully treated sewage into Santa Rosa and Colgan creeks and the rain-swollen Laguna, which overtook city blocks on the eastern edge of Sebastopol, including the upscale Barlow shopping and business district.
The emergency release is ongoing, city officials said Tuesday. All three waterways drain into the Russian River.
McGlynn’s report came as the City Council affirmed a local emergency declaration he made last week at the end of the storm. The move is meant to ensure the city has both the flexibility and legal protection to alter operations at its wastewater plant, where flows have abated but remain higher than normal.
Partially treated waste also was diverted last week into storage basins, with plans now underway to fully treat that sewage. That diversion took place from late Tuesday to Thursday afternoon and has not impacted nearby waterways, according to the city.
The plant has enough remaining storage space to handle the extra volume from this week’s rain, Santa Rosa Water officials said. They have yet to discover any damage at the plant stemming from the past storm, which dumped a one-day record of 5.66 inches of rain on Santa Rosa.
But the local emergency, set to remain in place through March, will allow city workers to monitor the plant and respond should damage pop up, officials said. It could also give the city some additional wiggle room with state water quality regulators who enforce strict standards governing the plant’s operation and releases.
The Llano Road facility treats wastewater from about 230,000 customers in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Cotati and Rohnert Park.
McGlynn, explaining his reasoning for emergency declaration, alluded to the benzene contamination caused in Fountaingrove water pipes by the Tubbs fire in October 2017, but not discovered until the following month.
“We’ve had experience before that damage does not always manifest itself immediately,” McGlynn said. “It can take a period of time to fully understand the implications. … This affords us an opportunity to really assess what impacts are to our facility and protect the city.”
The City Council ratified the 30-day emergency on a 6-0 vote at Tuesday’s special public meeting.
McGlynn’s initial proclamation Thursday came on the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Sonoma and four other Northern California counties related to storm damage.
In Sonoma County, flooding caused an estimated $155 million in damage to 2,600 homes and more than 570 businesses, while also impacting roads and other public infrastructure, county officials said.