To the editor:
It's alarming to see the City of Molalla's attempts to discount the severity of its ongoing sewage management violations. Instead of complying with DEQ's request for test well monitoring, Molalla spent money in February for a lawyer's letter to try to dodge monitoring and to try to avoid a penalty for 20 days of illegal discharge into the Molalla River in October. A responsible city would put public and environmental health first by proceeding with test wells to ensure that groundwater and private wells are not being contaminated by leaking sewage lagoons. Molalla violated its Total Suspended Solids (TSS) limits in December, January and February, resulting in another impending DEQ Enforcement Action; suspended solids impact the health of aquatic life.
I'll agree with one sentence in the lawyer's letter: "Like many small communities in Oregon, Molalla faces challenges with aging infrastructure" (read the letter at Bear Creek Recovery on Facebook). It's fascinating to research how communities around the state, in trouble with "aging infrastructure", have stepped up to comply with the Clean Water Act.
An inspiring tour of Wilsonville's recently upgraded wastewater plant showed sewage processed in about 12 hours into water clean and cool enough for year around discharge into the Willamette River; no sewage lagoons are needed! Exceptional Class A biosolids are produced via 550 degree ovens and the dry biosolids are immediately trucked away, safe enough for home fertilizer.
Wilsonville hired CH2MHill to design, build and run their excellent wastewater plant. CH2MHill absorbed the existing employees; they follow a code of honor to promptly report problems. Wilsonville's City Manager is thrilled with the CH2MHill contract because it is cost certain for the City, with CH2MHill is responsible for compliance, employees and violations.
The Dyer Partnership's website has great examples of Oregon wastewater upgrade projects. Dyer's engineer Steve Major acknowledged that fixing "aging infrastructure" comes with a cost. In his experience, cities of all sizes with DEQ compliance problems have raised their sewer rates to $70-$105/month.
On April 13 at 6:30 at the Molalla Library, Jon Gasik, DEQ Senior Environmental Engineer, will answer questions about wastewater permitting, compliance with the Clean Water Act, and financing wastewater improvements. Gasik will be an excellent resource for compliance success stories; he can also explain how urban growth could be halted if DEQ has concerns that a wastewater plant can't handle more volume.
The City of Molalla should stop paying for whiny legal letters filled with weak excuses and commit to a robust upgrade of its wastewater program. If Molalla wants to grow, it must to grow its ability to comply with the Clean Water Act.