Letter to PressDemocrat, February 15, 2014

Russian River Watershed Protection Committee has tracked Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) sewer issues for the last 35 years. My comments quoted in your story on 100,000 gallon raw sewage spill (Feb. 15, 2014) need further clarification.

Unlike most Sonoma County treatment systems, West County is an extremely challenging and expensive area to construct a conventional sewer. Besides periodic floods, we have high water tables, weak soils, extensive underground tree roots from giant trees, and steep slopes with collapsing slides. The construction history of RRCSD involved multiple lawsuits between County and contractors. There were many unanticipated problems impacting construction that probably contributed over the years to our very leaky system, now 30 years old.

Collection system maintenance has seldom included extensive testing and leaky pipe replacement. Because of a very limited rate base that nonetheless charges some of the highest rates in County, funds are not available to fix collection system problems. Therefore breakdowns of one sort or another occur almost every time there is a very big storm event. Once rain leaks into pipes and contacts sewage, it’s contaminated and must be processed as raw sewage. This results in extremely high flows that put extraordinary pressure on aging infrastructure.