Ione City Councilman Stacey Rhoades, left, shows a jug of Sutter Creek water, left, in comparison to a jug of water from Mule Creek, right, at a meeting on March 9.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) dumped an additional 121,984 gallons of industrial waste containing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Semivolitile Organic Compounds (SVOCs) into Mule Creek in Ione from March 6-8, 2020, bringing the total to 7,951,458 gallons in the latest four-month period.

The Central Valley Water Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) that regulates the CDCR and Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) facility confirmed the discharges that flow into Mule Creek are not just storm water or irrigation water, but actually gray water, sewage and industrial waste from prison industries, or a mixture, back in January of 2018.

However, little if anything has been done to stop the illegal discharges, stop the contamination, or to find out exactly what contaminants are commingled and being released into our federal waterways.

Interestingly enough, the RWQCB met in February of 2019 granting a “Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System” permit, or MS4 designation, for CDCR to MCSP. While the RWQCB says the permit would enable them better enforcement, and compliance with regulations, property owners, as well as David Anderson, who became very ill working around the hazardous water and soil at MCSP, say it was a coverup to allow leniency on dumping toxins into Mule Creek. No fines from the RWQCB have been issued. Any directives or demands from the RWQCB to CDCR have been ignored.

In fact, one of the RWQCB staff members at the February 2019 meeting noted that of the three sewer systems at MCSP (domestic sewer, prison industries, and stormwater) there was commingling occurring, making it illegal to grant the MS4 permit. The RWQCB went ahead and granted the designation anyway, breaking the law. Additionally, this same staffer at RWQCB, tipped off the Ledger Dispatch saying that CDCR is going to open the slide gates every time there is a tenth of an inch of rain within an hour, or three-tenths of an inch of rain within 24-hours, which is when the newspaper began tracking illegal dumping of industrial waste containing VOCs and SVOCs from an “undocumented source,” though that source has plenty of documentation – it’s just being ignored, or criminally covered up, depending on who you are talking to. To make things worse, neither CDCR or the RWQCB can tell anyone exactly what is in the industrial waste full of VOCs and SVOCs. Human factors have never been tested for, however reports of caffeine have been found in Mule Creek.

It’s an important factor, as CDCR and the RWQCB likely will tell you that the waste spills are diluted enough with stormwater that it doesn’t pose a threat. The problem, aside from illegally contaminating federal water ways and breaking federal and state laws – they can’t even tell you what is in the waste they are dumping into Mule Creek.

It could be extremely harmful. Land owners with property adjacent to Mule Creek have documented sick livestock, cattle and horses, including some deaths. Wells were contaminated back in 2006, during a spill. A baby born with birth defects, and another allegedly died. Flash forward decades to a firefighter that became disoriented, and sick, when he came in contact with water from the creek while fighting a fire. Four workers suffered serious illness while building a culvert to hide the flow of contaminants pouring into Mule Creek from MCSP, and yet nothing has been done to ascertain what contaminants are being dumped in the river by CDCR with every rainfall.

The Revised Stormwater Collection System Investigation Report of Findings conducted by SHN Engineers and Geologists, a report over 16,000 pages long, released in October of 2019 outlines structural issues with pipes in their sewer systems and storm drain system, that explain the commingling and contamination occurring under MCSP. What it doesn’t explain is why the RWQCB would allow CDCR to break state and federal laws, and not do anything to fix the problem.

Ione City Councilman and Vice-Mayor, Stacy Rhoades, reviewed the entire report.

“I reviewed the 16,000 page report and believe the problems they face at MCSP are huge, costly to fix, and likely across the California Prison system,” said Rhoades. “That is the only conclusion I can see as to why the RWQCB would not make the CDCR comply with its orders. To me, it’s very clear that contamination is coming from within Mule Creek State Prison, is likely commingling of their sewer, prison industries and storm drain systems where there are numerous defects, line breaks, and collapses. I also have reviewed and been looking at the 52 waste spills that have occurred since 2006. This prompted me to get in touch with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, as I am trying to get them involved to get to the bottom of this issue, as well as address and fix it. It’s as your coverage has pointed out – massive.”

Lacking the power in law to enforce any action, the City of Ione aired grievances as to the polluted stormwater and wastewater discharges from MCSP at their meeting on March 9, 2020. Rhoades showed a jug of “Sutter Creek Water” next to a jug of “Mule Creek Water” for comparison. Various violations by the prison in dumping out wastewater, hazardous materials and contaminated stormwater were detailed as property owners along Mule Creek voiced their concerns over the decades of contamination.

“I might even take a drink from this,” said Rhoades, pointing to the jug of Sutter Creek water. Then turning to the jug of Mule Creek water, “I wouldn’t suggest even putting a finger in that. Anyone want to?”

The answer was a resounding, “No.”

The Amador County Board of Supervisors were scheduled to have a presentation from the RWQCB on negotiations and settlements with CDCR regarding MCSP at their March 24, 2020, meeting. The meeting and presentation have been cancelled and no future date for review or discussion has been set. Amador County District 2 Supervisor Richard Forster had formally invited the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to that meeting.

As for the latest 121,984 gallons of industrial waste spilled into Mule Creek from MCSP by CDCR, if we are right, join us next Friday, March 27, when a spill report based on the recent storm and opening of the slide gates will spew, in our opinion, hundreds of thousands of gallons of industrial waste illegally into federal waterways, continuing to pollute Amador County with no end in sight, and no one stopping it.