City of Mt. Shasta agrees to pay $166,000 fine after sewer line leak

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald
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The City of Mt. Shasta has agreed to pay $166,000 to settle an administrative civil liability complaint to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board for sewer overflows in 2014-2017.

The original amount of the fine was $1.3 million, said Mount Shasta City Manager Bruce Pope, but after “months and months of negotiations” with the water board an agreement was struck for $166,000, to be paid in installments over five years with no interest.

The overflows were caused primarily by a buildup of debris and root intrusion from aging infrastructure that could not accommodate heavy flows during intense rainfall, said Pope.

In 2017, the heavy rains also caused channel bank erosion at a pipe crossing that resulted in failure of the pipe and a sewage spill into Cold Creek, a tributary to Lake Siskiyou.

Pope said there is “no question” that the spills happened, and added that the city has been working to address the problems that led to the spills for several years. 

“We’ve known since 2010 that the lines needed to be replaced,” said Pope, “and we tried desperately to do that.”

At one point, the city received grant funding to replace the interceptor in question, which is located in the wetland area west of Interstate 5. However, the project died after it became embroiled in controversy surrounding the Crystal Geyser facility that has yet to open just outside Mount Shasta’s city limits.

Pope said that money is now unavailable, and the city is hard strapped to afford necessary repairs, much less the fines involved with spills.

The city is working to secure financing for what’s known as the Sewer Interceptor Project, said Public Works Director Rod Bryan.

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“We will be working with the state on a financing package of a grant (with) a zero to low interest loan as soon as financing for the state mandated Wastewater Treatment Plant is established and funding commitments are in place.”

He added that the city is in the midst of the process to raise water and sewer fees to further address these issues.

“It is critical that cities like Mount Shasta operate and maintain their sewage collection systems consistent with their permit terms,” said Clint Snyder, assistant executive officer for the water board. “Failing to do so threatens public health and aquatic organisms when untreated sewage enters receiving waters.”

Raw sewage contains pathogens, nitrogen, ammonia, and organic matter, according to a press release from the water board. When spilled into a creek, elevated levels of these constituents create a human health risk and reduce dissolved oxygen levels in the water, which negatively impacts aquatic life.

In addition, the City of Mt. Shasta violated effluent limitations in their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit by going over the allowed amount of biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, copper, and zinc from February 2017 through May 2020. 

Under the settlement, the city will direct $108,000 toward completing assessments and studies for upgrades to the existing wastewater treatment plant and to prevent effluent violations. The city will also allocate $1.1 million to upgrading the collection system in the downtown area to reduce the likelihood of future overflows.

These portions of the fines are credited funds already expended from projects or phases of projects that have already been completed to address the problems, said Bryan. The $108,000 was used during the design and planning state of the state mandated Wastewater Treatment Plant Project and the $1.1 million was satisfied with the completion of the Downtown Collection System Improvement Project in 2019.

The $166,988 in fines will go to the state’s Water Pollution Cleanup and Abatement Account, the water board said.

The Central Valley Water Board is a state agency responsible for protecting water quality and ensuring beneficial uses, such as aquatic habitat and human health, for 11,350 miles of streams, 579,110 acres of lakes, and the largest contiguous groundwater basin in California, according to the release. It is the largest of nine regional boards in California, encompassing 60,000 square miles, or about 40% of the state.