Sequoia faces sanctions for wastewater violations

 

Sequoia National Park officials are currently preparing a report as to how Ash Mountain headquarters will address more than 110 violations that occurred since 2008 at the Clover Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility, located off the Generals Highway between Lodgepole and Wuksachi Lodge. The violations were outlined in a letter dated August 31, 2016, and addressed to Paul Schwarz, park sanitarian, from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

On September 15, Nancy Hendricks, environmental protection specialist and acting superintendent, issued the following statement:

We are taking these violations seriously and will be submitting a written response to the state [CVRWQCB] in the next few weeks. Over 90 percent of the violations concern errors and omissions on our monthly self-monitoring reports. We will correct these issues and ensure that our monthly self-monitoring reports fully conform to state guidelines.

Several of the violations, however, relate to an incident on June 13, 2016, when treated wastewater overflowed from the effluent tank at the Clover Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility. The system experienced an electronic failure, which resulted in the need to manually operate the system until the park could obtain parts and make repairs. Those manual operations failed to be carried out, resulting in system overflows, which sent treated wastewater into the immediate area.

When park management was made aware of the overflows, staff immediately responded and stopped the overflows. There was no discharge of untreated wastewater into the area and there is no continued discharge at the site.

Omar Mostafa, water resource control engineer for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, said the Park Service’s written response must be completed by October 3.

According to the former operator of the site, Kenneth “Dale” Oviedo, who resigned his National Park Service position on July 6 after alerting the CVRWQCB to numerous ongoing violations at the Clover Creek facility, the situation is far more serious than the single incident that occurred on June 13.

In fact, Oviedo said, during late May and early June when Sequoia National Park experienced an influx of visitors for the busy summer season, the tank at Clover Creek was overflowing at least three times daily.

“Every spill on the ground was in violation of our discharge permit,” Oviedo said.

The tank and system could not be properly monitored because of a broken meter, he continued. Equipment at the facility is in a general state of disrepair, and requests for repairs and assistance from Ash Mountain went unheeded, Oviedo reported.

Oviedo said in the several months prior to his resignation in July he sent 16 emails to the park sanitarian outlining the problems at Clover Creek. In this correspondence he requested repairs, parts, and assistance. He never received a reply.

“My supervisor at Ash Mountain was apathetic toward what goes on at Lodgepole,” Oviedo said. “They might be able to ignore the employee but they will listen to the regulator.”

More than a quick fix is needed to remedy the situation at Clover Creek, Oviedo said. Where he, as the licensed operator, had a helper, in order to properly staff the facility there should instead be at minimum four full-time operators year-round, he advised. 

Oviedo said it comes down to budget priority. At Grand Canyon National Park, where Oviedo worked from 2011 to 2014, there was more staffing and the operation was better financed.

After resigning in July after working at Sequoia for one year, Oviedo, 58, was hired as a licensed operator at Lemoore Naval Air Station. He said he is aware of the stigma that goes along with being a whistleblower.        

“I have a license and a responsibility for public health and to park visitors,” Oviedo said. “Nothing would have ever changed if I didn’t come forward. What I want to see is that they fix the problems and improve the way they do business up there.” 

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