Pond construction at MSWD in violation of a Water Control Act subjects the district to $5,000 per day or $10 for each gallon of waste discharged

DESERT HOT SPRINGS —  What started out as an effluent spill at the Alan L. Horton Wastewater Treatment Plant on Oct. 3, 2020, and construction of a temporary holding pond for secondary waste has led to a reported violation of the California Water Code, a threat of significant fines and also further enforcement from the Attorney General.

“The spill did not interrupt service to customers and local water quality was not impacted,” Victoria Llort, Programs & Public Affairs Manager for Mission Springs Water District (MSWD) told Uken Report. “MSWD remains, as always, dedicated to safe, reliable service and protection of our region’s water resources.”

MSWD is reviewing a Notice of Violation received June 10, 2021, from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Colorado River Basin Region (Regional Water Board), Llort said. MSWD is committed to protecting public health and the environment, including preserving our water resources, through safe, responsible wastewater collection and treatment.

The letter, Llort wrote in an email, states MSWD is in violation of not notifying the Regional Water Board of modifications that resulted in a material change to the location of treated wastewater discharge at the award-winning Alan Horton Wastewater Treatment Plant. This is related to the construction of a temporary holding pond in September 2020 and re-construction of the temporary pond in March 2021.

The letter also references a violation that occurred related to the temporary pond and a treated wastewater spill at the plant on October 3, 2020. The spill was reported to the Regional Water Board and a Spill Incident Report was submitted. The March 2021 re-construction of the pond addressed the incident that caused the spill.

“MSWD is assessing the details of the events related to the Notice of Violation,” Llort  said. “It is too early to know what, if any, fines will be levied against the District. MSWD is working with the Regional Water Board regarding this matter. We are dedicated to resolving this notice promptly and in compliance with Regional Water Board regulations and requirements.”

She declined to say whether any disciplinary action has been taken or will be.

MSWD May Face Hefty Fines for Pond Construction

Steve Grasha, MSWD director

MSWD Director Steve Grasha said the incident could cost MSWD “millions.” He said for the past year he has been asking questions and cannot get answers. Turns out, he alleges both he and the board of directors have been “lied to.” Watch and listen to him here.

The issue dates back to Oct. 21, 2020. That’s when Mission Springs Water District (MSWD) reported the spill to the Regional Water Board indicating that a mechanical failure of a holding basin caused the unauthorized discharge. The side wall of the holding basin failed, allowing approximately 754,000 gallons of treated effluent to spill. The spill was not submitted in compliance with either MSWD or Regional Water Board regulations, according to a June 10 certified letter sent to Arden Wallum, general manager/chief engineer at MSWD. He has held the position for 15 years.

On Jan. 29, 2021, the Regional Water Board issued a notice of violation to MSWD alleging that it violated the Water Board’s discharge prohibitions, discharge specifications and standard provisions. The notice also required MSWD to immediately submit a Spill Incident Report. On March 17, 2021, when the Regional Water Board received the report, it estimated a spill volume of 943,738 gallons.

After reviewing the Spill Incident Report, the Regional Water Board identified additional violations related to the Oct. 3, 2020 unauthorized discharge and MSWD’s response to the event. The Spill Incident Report referred to “a breach in a temporary holing pong (pond) that was built at the Alan Horton Wastewater Treatment Plant … in September 2020.”

The Regional Water Board was not notified before MSWD constructed the holding pond. In addition, The Regional Water Board was not notified that the temporary holding pond was being reconstructed.

MSWD is required to submit in writing construction and reconstruction of the holding pond within 30 days of receiving the letter and implement corrective actions.

MSWD is subject to penalties of up to $5,000 for each day the violation occurs or $10 for each gallon of waste discharged.

The matter could also be referred to the Attorney General for further enforcement.

You may read the full 3-page letter here. 






Image Sources

  • Steve Grasha: Steve Grasha
  • Alan L. Horton Wastewater Treatment Plant: MSWD director