castle oaks

At 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, the City of Ione Tertiary Treatment Plant began accepting contaminated effluent from Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) known to contain VOCs, SVOCs, industrial waste and other unknown and untested components. The partially treated, but nonetheless contaminated, effluent will be used to irrigate the Castle Oaks Golf Course to keep the course green.

This is a complete reversal from the cease and desist orders sent by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) on May 13 and May 14, 2021. Those letters outlined the “evidence of historical discharge of untreated or partially treated wastewater or sludge to unlined basins from vacuum trucks … with potential impact to groundwater,” among numerous other violations at the City of Ione Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Ione Tertiary Treatment Plant.

At an undocumented meeting prior to the Ione City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 1, Interim City Manager Michael Rock stated all the violations had been addressed with the RWQCB, they apologized, and that the City of Ione Tertiary Treatment Plant could accept effluent from MCSP. While those attending the meeting, the minutes of the meeting, or decisions made, have never been made public, sources indicate it was a Zoom meeting between Kari Holmes, Kenny Croyle and Howard Hold of the RWQCB, and Ione Interim City Manager Michael Rock, Ione City Council Member Dan Epperson and Ione City Vice Mayor Dominic Atlan, who is also Castle Oaks’ Manager.

The next morning, the City of Ione went to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to turn on the water and CDCR stated they were under cease and desist orders from the RWQCB and could not comply, starting a scramble to get effluent or a different water source to Castle Oaks Golf Course by other means. They started by trying to get effluent from Amador Regional Sanitation Authority (ARSA), while at the same time digging a well near Castle Oaks Golf Course.

Atlan went to social media to provide updates on the water situation:

“Here is where we are as of Friday (June 4, 2021). ARSA’s water does not meet legal quality standards as they have neglected removing sludge from Preston Reservoir – a violation of their contract. CDCR is still off. The well is not yet operational but hopefully will be on Tuesday.

“ARSA produces up to 900 acre feet of wastewater per year. They also have up to 1,100 acre feet of diversion creek right. This incident is not a result of drought, but purely water mismanagement. There is no good reason that they ran out of wastewater when they went through a five-year drought from 2012 to 2016 and never ran out.”

“The City of Sutter Creek’s wastewater treatment plant produces roughly 360 acre feet per year,” said Amy Gedney, Sutter Creek City Manager and ARSA General Manager. “During average rain years, there is more water in the ARSA system to dispose of. This year, with only 17 inches of rain, there was obviously less water to dispose of in the ARSA system. Ione began taking 1,000,000 gallons of water a day for Castle Oaks in April. The quality of the water in the ARSA system meets our discharge requirements for the City of Sutter Creek’s wastewater treatment plant. Not a single drop of water from ARSA to Ione has been withheld from Ione.”

For review, in 2017 the Ione City Council (Ron Smylie, Diane Wratten, Dominic Atlan and Dan Epperson) voted unanimously to send ARSA a five-year notice to eliminate all flows to the lower Henderson/Preston system by July 31, 2022.

“You have to remember there was a ‘Notice of Termination’ letter dated August 5, 2011 that was then rescinded,” said Robin Peters, Chairman of the ARSA Board. “The new five-year plan for termination has had ARSA working hard to find other sources and solutions, only to have Dan Epperson state in the last ARSA meeting that the letter was sent as a negotiation tactic to negotiate better costs for the cost of operating the tertiary plant. That is an appalling tactic.”

In the Ione City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 1, local resident Jim Scully noted that California Fair Political Practices were violated at the last ARSA meeting as Atlan was present, with Dianne Wratten attending via Zoom. Additionally, David Anderson – a Murphys resident, who became seriously ill after working with a crew building a culvert at MCSP – filed a complaint:

“On June 1, 2021, the City Manager and two City Councilmen of the City of Ione conducted a meeting with representatives of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board about a Cease and Desist Order issued against the City of Ione accepting effluent to be used as irrigation water for the golf course in the City. The golf course is the Castle Oaks Golf Course and the General Manager is Dominic Atlan, who is also a City Councilman and Vice Mayor for the City. Mr. Atlan participated in the meeting with the RWQCB imploring the RWQCB to issue relief in regards to their Cease and Desist Order so the golf course could benefit in receiving irrigation water. Mr. Atlan later on June 1, 2021, participated in City Council discussion of the irrigation water issue and voted to direct the City Manager to respond to the RWQCB with a summary of the their meeting earlier that day. There is no doubt that Mr. Atlan was aware of his conflict of interest and disregarded any prohibitions against his participation in the irrigation issue.”

Which brings us to Monday, June 7, 2021, when Kari Holmes, P.E., Supervising Water Resources Control Engineer, Compliance & Enforcement Program, RWQCB, sent an email to Gregor Larrabee, Chief, Environmental & Regulatory Compliance – CDCR stating: “I will be putting something together formally; however, in the meantime, this email serves as the regional board’s agreement to waive the discharge prohibition from MCSP to Ione’s Waste Water Treatment Plant until further dialogue and information is gathered via MCSP WWTPs and WDR permitting renewal process. MCSP is allowed to discharge to Ione until further notice. I plan to issue a formal letter by the end of this week.”

It is expected that new permits for CDCR and the City of Ione will be issued by the RWQCB allowing for new Waste Disposal Requirements that will make it possible for the contaminated water to be used in the future. It has been suggested by the City of Ione that the water will be tested monthly for VOCs, SVOCs, industrial waste and other components. However, who will pay for the testing, what contaminates will be tested, where samples will be taken, when testing will occur and the chain of custody have not been made public.

It should be noted that Castle Oaks has used water from CDCR to irrigate the golf course for years and, as Atlan has said in the past, there has never been an issue.

None of the regional treatment plants, including CDCR’s, is designed to handle the industrial waste and contamination it creates through its operations at MCSP. Additionally, there is strong evidence that the stormwater, domestic sewer and prison industries systems are broken, commingled and just as we have seen at Mule Creek, are now present in the Preston Reservoir, which MCSP historically has used. In their miraculous recovery from all violations from the RWQCB after their undocumented private meeting back on June 1, the City of Ione has addressed every violation and issues two letters of response to the RWQCB. In bold face in one letter of response: “It should be noted that from the information the City has, the VOCs are very low and should not represent ground water issues.”

The problem – that’s not true according to the RWQCB, is not based on any testing, is not a factual representation of the findings from CDCR in their own research, and the City has not done any testing to prove rather that is true or not. A lie to the RWQCB – but one that they want to hear, as they have refused enforcement when dealing with CDCR.

In public comment at the Tuesday, June 8 meeting of the Amador County Board of Supervisors, District 2 Supervisor Richard Forster said he had spoken with Atlan and repeated what he was told – “The VOCs and SVOCs are very low based on a discussion I had with Dominic Atlan.”

So, the Ledger Dispatch contacted Atlan to ask what science the statement was based on. His email response, “You should be able to get everything that you need from the City. If all else fails, fill out a Public Records Act form.”

The City of Ione, CDCR and the RWQCB have refused to comment and provided nothing.