Keeping McCloud's sewage flowing

Shareen Strauss
It's a scenic view looking toward Mt. Shasta from the McCloud sewage ponds. But the amount of work required to meet new state regulations has increased. McCloud Community Services District interim general manager Wayne Grigsby recently explained the process, noting with a smile, "People do not realize how much is involved in keeping our sewage flowing."  Photo by Shareen Strauss

Hidden under majestic Mt. Shasta, tucked away in the pines with daisies springing up all around, are McCloud's sewage ponds. Driving through the dust created by the scrapers around these scenic sewage ponds, lean, cowboy-attired and soft-spoken Wayne Grigsby explains how this toilet flushing thing works.

The State Water Board comes every year to inspect the natural sewage ponds. Last fall, a new regulation was implemented requiring that the sewage ponds be rotated and the sludge removed every two years.

McCloud's ponds have not been rotated in more than 10 years. When the sewage was transferred from pond No. 1 to No. 2, it was found that pond No. 2 leaked through the dike because it has no impervious liner, and the ground squirrels burrowing made the levy porous.

The ponds need to have a depth of three feet to "work right," and Grigsby explains, "The biological bugs (microorganisms) and the oxygen and the temperature all work together to break down waste. At three feet it runs 15 to 18 ppm (parts per million). The permit states that it cannot drop down below

1 ppm. When the water level in pond No. 2 is below three feet it is running 2-3 ppm, which is down to the line. The leaking pond keeps the water at one foot which makes the water too warm and will become septic and stinks really bad."

The ponds are not supposed to smell.

Grigsby tells how he would hook up to a hydrant on a dead end road in the Schrader subdivision near where the ponds are located and run a water line in the sewer main for 12 hours at night to keep the elevation in the pond.

"There was not only an eight foot deep hole in one of the ponds, but it also had these big long gravel bars, like a creek that ran through the bottom of it," Grigsby said. "We dug all these gravel bars out about a foot and a half and brought in top soil and impervious material, and clay back in, capped it and filled it all in. Then there is the flow pipe that brings in the waste. It was broken and was backing up about ten years ago and has never worked right since, so the state made us replace it. Chuck Schlumpberger, the civil engineer, drew the plans. What I have to do is add a piece of pipe so the inflow will discharge to the bottom of the floor so it does not generate oxygen which will cause it to smell. We dug out about four feet of sludge so it can be placed at the floor bottom again."

Grigsby said McCloud's permit from the state regional water board allows no more than 300,000 gallons of waste each day, "Right now, with 1100 current residences, this produces less than 200 thousand gallons in 24 hours."

All that waste settles on the bottom. "But what these ponds do, like any body of water such as McCloud Reservoir or Lake Shasta, they flip themselves every spring with the temperature and barometric changes. You will then see all kinds of floating things along the shorelines."

With rented equipment and four employees working eight-hour days, Grigsby expects the project to be completed by next week.

"Originally, we were told that we had to haul the sludge off," he said, pointing out that there are only two places that will take it. The Anderson landfill, he said, charges $38 per ton, which would cost McCloud about $80,000. "The only other place is White City, Oregon. The trucking alone would be about $50,000 to take it there."

Grigsby negotiated with the State Board and agreed to pull the sludge out and put it in a containment area in the bottom of pond No. 3 which is dry. Then Grigsby found a worm company in Florida that will sell him "the big red worms" to put in the sludge to convert it to mulch. For $10 per pound there are about 200 worms that will grow up to about two feet long.

The sewage ponds are off limits to the public, and Grigsby said all employees are vaccinated against all forms of Hepatitis.

"Our ponds are called lagoons, and we do not treat our sewage like other towns and cities. Our biological bugs break down our waste. Other cities down the line such as Dunsmuir, Shasta, and Redding have treatment plants where they treat their water with chemicals and run it through filters, then they pull the chemicals back out and put it back in the Sacramento River. This is super expensive. And they still have to haul off the sludge. They are not able to do what we are doing. Our ponds are the most inexpensive way to deal with sewage. There are no gravity feeds, no pumps, no chemicals, no backup generators, it is all aeration/percolation, it is nature working at its best."

If this was contracted out, Grigsby estimates that it would cost about $80,000 instead of the $11,000 it is costing the McCloud Services District. It is mandated by the state to clean one-third of the town's sewage lines each year.

Grigsby, who previously worked on the California aqueduct, in his polite manner, says with a smile, "People do not realize how much is involved in keeping our sewage flowing."