Sequoia responds to wastewater violations


In response to a complaint that during June and July effluent was overflowing at Sequoia National Park’s Clover Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board is currently conducting an investigation of 110 violations that have occurred since 2008. Following an inspection of the Clover Creek facility on Wednesday, July 6, by CVRWQCB staff, Sequoia National Park management was ordered to draft a response and outline plans to correct both the illegal discharge of effluent and procedural violations in record-keeping at Clover Creek.

The original complaint also cited that equipment at the wastewater facility was poorly maintained and the computer software that controlled the automatic system had failed. The former chief plant operator, Dale Oviedo, who notified the CVRWQCB of the violations, said prior to alerting the state agency, he had notified park officials of the problems at Clover Creek via more than a dozen emails from November 2015 until July 2016 that were never answered.

In a five-page letter dated September 30 and signed by Woody Smeck,  superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, managers at Ash Mountain outlined the extent of the problems at Clover Creek and detailed what steps would be taken to correct actual and potential violations.

Violation #1 was failure to keep discharge within the designated disposal area. The National Park Service response:

According to California wastewater operator certification regulations, it is the responsibility of the licensed Chief Plant Operator for the overall operation of a wastewater treatment plant including compliance with effluent limitations established in the wastewater treatment plant’s waste discharge requirements and to ensure that they take the necessary steps to ensure that this does not occur and to immediately report this to Park Management if this incident was to occur. These two steps were not followed by the former CPO on duty.

The letter also explained that even though the automatic system had failed, the CPO was instructed to operate the system manually. The letter states: 

Records indicate that no effluent was disposed of manually after June 16, 2016, until June 29, 2016, when we were informed by CA RWQCB staff of the overflow and the maintenance mechanic put the system back into manual mode. CPO was the primary operator at this time.

Violation #2 was the threatening degradation of the groundwater and surface water. The NPS response:

The possible threat occurred when the system was not operated in manual mode by the CPO, who was shown how to do this on June 18, 2016 by the USRO [Utility Systems Repair-Operator] helper.

Violation #3 cited the failure to report a spill to the CVRWQCB within 24 hours. The NPS response:

Response to this violation came once the RWQCB Staff contacted the Park on June 29, 2016, letting us know that we had overflow of the effluent tank.

An attachment outlined the “best estimated” timeline of effluent-tank filling and subsequently overflowing utilizing documented flow numbers. According to the former CPO, the meter to measure flow numbers was broken. Reportedly, no response was received to emails  from the chief plant operator to management citing faulty equipment and requesting repairs.    

Violation #4 cited the failure to keep control systems in good working order. The NPS response: 

Standard practice has been for the USROs and CPO to work with manufacturers to troubleshoot and determine any needed additional repairs to address equipment failures and provide Park Management with cost estimates and timelines. The Park has reiterated these procedures and will ensure status updates to problems are discussed at least weekly during staff meetings. Beginning in October 2015 the Park started a $1.044+ million construction project to upgrade the Clover Creek Plant. This was phase 1 of 3 addressing documented deficiencies.

The letter also states that Clover Creek effluent discharge is currently still being operated in the manual mode while employees install new parts and  troubleshoot wiring issues in the computer automation of the facility. 

To address and prevent failures that led to the 110 violations, the letter outlined eight areas of documentation policy, including emergency notifications and daily status updates with all staff in the event of a spill or equipment failure.

“The management of Sequoia-Kings Canyon responded to the Notice of Violation by stating that they were never informed of any problem with the Effluent Disposal System prior to the inspection,” responded Dale Oviedo, former chief plant officer. “That statement is completely untrue. I informed supervision about that and many other issues during the time I worked there.” 

“Blaming the former CPO for the many issues that are part of the work culture of Sequoia National Park will not correct those  underlying issues,” he concluded.

CVRWQCB staff will respond to the NPS letter following an agency review and request more documentation and/or monitor all proposed measures to prevent additional violations and ensure compliance.  

Previous articles regarding the Clover Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant violations may be found at: (or in the Friday, Sept. 9, print edition), and (or in the Friday, Sept. 23, print edition). 

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