State agencies are currently assessing potential impacts to Scotia’s drinking water system after three separate incidents at the Humboldt Redwood Company sawmill caused water contaminated with woody materials to infiltrate into the town’s drinking water system on the Eel River.
Other than an unpalatable taste, odor and a slight golden tinge, Scotia’s drinking water was never deemed unsafe to drink, Town of Scotia Company President Frank Bacik said, though the woody resin has required an entire cleansing of the utility company’s water system and has resulted in some issues with residential appliances. Since the last incident occurred on July 20, Bacik and state agencies said on Friday that the drinking water is returning to its normal quality.
“The worst is behind us and the discharge has stopped,” Bacik said.
The State Water Resources Control Board and its North Coast Regional Water Quality Control are currently working to find out how much of the drinking water intake system was contaminated by the unintended runoff water and how such an incident can be prevented in the future.
“This is a serious issue with water quality and public health and our staff is working on it diligently,” said Mona Dougherty, senior water resource control engineer for the North Coast Water Quality Control Board.
The multi-part incident began on the night of June 27 when a wood waste pile at the Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) sawmill caught fire. After local fire departments controlled the blaze, Bacik said HRC staff continued to douse the pile throughout the next day, using about 2 million gallons of water to do so.
While the runoff from this water would normally go to the sawmill’s stormwater retention pond as is required under its industrial stormwater permit, an unknown amount of runoff went into a storm drain on HRC’s property.
The woody water was later found to be discharging from a hidden culvert above a gravel bar of the nearby Eel River where Town of Scotia draws its water supply from.
As to how this occurred, Dougherty said that there were some violations of HRC’s industrial stormwater permit and gaps in the company’s required stormwater pollution prevention plan.
“Some of the storm drain facilities were not properly put into the plan and they didn’t fully understand how their storm drain system works,” she said. “That’s something they’ll need to address.”
A few days later around July 4, residents began noticing a discoloration of their water and called for more chlorination to deal with the issue. Meanwhile, Town of Scotia staff began testing the water and found that the wood lignins and tannins from the wood waste pile fire, along with safe but elevated levels of iron and manganese had been sucked into the drinking water system and were causing some issues and “odd patterns” around town.
“The wood resins are devilish,” Bacik said. “They can clog filters, they can get past the activated charcoal, get in the pipes and linger there.”
Millions of gallons of water in the storage tanks and pipes had to be flushed out and the gravel bar was altered and flushed out to prevent more contamination. HRC began scraping off and hauling away the contaminated deposits from the effected gravel bar. State water agencies were also contacted.
Then came what Bacik described as “a comedy of errors” when HRC’s fire suppression system had two water main breaks with the first occurring a week after the initial fire.
“We’d do all this work to get it clear and then there’d be another spill,” Bacik said. “We’ve never had these discharges into the river before, so coping with them has been our greatest concern.”
More water poured on to the gravel bar from the same culvert, which led to HRC finding out about the discharge site, engineering geologist Devon Jorgenson of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board said.
“They were unaware of the culvert’s existence until after the first main break,” she said.
Once again, the utility company had to begin testing and cleaning out the tannins and lignins that infiltrated its water system. But on July 20 at 5 a.m., a second HRC main break occurred, causing another slug of contaminated water to spill out.
But this time, Bacik said, they were prepared and were able to shut off their water intake system as well as the water main in order to minimize any impacts to the drinking water system. Town of Scotia also borrowed portable water storage tanks to be used while they flushed their system again.
Now two weeks later, Bacik said the Town of Scotia Company is continuing to chase down and flush out any possible contaminations from their drinking water system and has already spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on rush water testing, equipment rentals and the previous cleanups.
“We work all day everyday on the problem and spared no expense,” Bacik said. “It is frustrating when you can’t turn a dial and solve the problem.”
Meanwhile, Dougherty said HRC has hired independent water quality testers and are working with state water officials to address any issues with stormwater retention. As to whether penalties or fees would be assessed as a result of these incidents, she said, “that decision hasn’t been made yet.”
Article by: Will Houston
Published by: Eureka Times Standard
Publish date: August 1, 2015