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from the News-Ledger, Dec. 8, 2010

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

  The sewage district that serves West Sacramento is sounding the alarm bells, claiming that proposed new environmental regulations could triple the cost of residential sewage service and add thousands to the bill for business owners.

  Stan Dean, district engineer for the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (SRCSD), is arguing that the district’s new proposed discharge permit could carry a $2 billion price tag. Customers – including West Sacramento property owners – would have to foot the bill for tight new sewage discharge controls if state regulators approve the permit.

  The new measures are intended to protect water quality and fish populations downstream in the Delta. The SRCSD discharges treated sewage into the Sacramento River.

  Dean told the News-Ledger that the proposed new permit for SRCSD includes two major changes.

  “Ammonia is a nutrient,” he said. “They’re asking us to remove the nutrient, and that is one of the big expenses. The other is filtration (and other measures to eliminate microbes in treated waste), and we already have chlorination for pathogens.”

  Dean argued that other bodies of water aren’t being held to the same standard, and it isn’t clear whether the proposed new treatment measures would make a difference for a troubled aquatic environment downstream.

  “We need to ask the question of, ‘Is the benefit worth the cost to the community?’” said Dean. “If ,instead of $2 billion, it only cost $200 million to build this, we wouldn’t be having this debate.”

  He said the district does believe that SRCSD needs to reduce its ammonia discharges by about 50 percent, and it will probably cost a few hundred million to do so. But the stricter changes now on the table are merely a smokescreen backed by outside water contractors users hoping to buy time so they can keep drawing water from the Delta while somebody else worries about the environmental costs.

  How much good the new changes would do will take a long time to find out, he said.

  “If this is not a big deal for the Delta, we won’t know that for a very long time. It will take us 10 years to build it and get it online, and then it will take years to see if it will work. If this is being used as a distraction, then it will last for a long time.”

  The district serves about 400,000 billed customers and a population of about 1.3 million people in the region, he said. Homeowners will see their rates go from about $20 per month to about $61.75 per month, claims the SRCSD. Hookup fees and business sewage costs will likewise skyrocket, the district claims. Business will spend “as much as five times” their current budgets for sewage, according to one SRCSD claim.

  How fair are those numbers?

  “There are a lot of assumptions that go into this,” Dean admitted. “You really don’t know the true costs until you go through the design process and put it out to bid. . . but these are pretty darn good estimates.”

  West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon told the News-Ledger that it wasn’t a mistake for this city to join SRCSD and close down its own waste treatment program. At least, by being members of SRCSD, the city gets the benefits of “economy of scale” when facing this kind of onerous restriction, said Cabaldon.

  “We would have had to pay rates in excess even of what is now proposed if we hadn’t joined Sac Regional,” said Cabaldon. “Because of the economies of scale we get with Sac Regional Sanitation, we’re still better off.”

  The state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board will hold a hearing at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow at 11020 Sun Center Drive No. 200, in Rancho Cordova, to accept public input on the proposed new discharge permit.