Part of an ongoing investigative series
November 6, 2019: “Regarding Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP), they have been told numerous times in letter, calls, meetings and in person that their intentional discharge of commingled stormwater and wastewater that is known to contain waste constituents is an illegal discharge and it must be contained on site and treated properly. However, their formal response was that anytime there is more than 0.1 inches of rain forecasted they will open the slide gates prior to the storm and all commingled wastewater/stormwater will be discharged to Mule Creek. Despite us informing them that this is a violation of the WDRs and the Clean Water Act, they did this regularly throughout 2018/2019 wet season and (as far as I know) intend to continue this practice. After much pestering, I did get them to call in these releases each time to OES as ‘spills,’ but they always report them as ‘stormwater,’ which is inaccurate. So to answer your question, this is more of a routine occurrence during the wet season, as they essentially plan to discharge illegally any time there is a measurable amount of rain in the forecast.”
Water Resources Control Engineer, WDRs and Title 27 Compliance and Enforcement Unit Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board
After requesting a further delay of the Revised Stormwater Collection System Investigation on Mule Creek State Prison and having that request denied by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, CDCR released its 16,841 page Report of Findings on November 1, 2019. Aside from the direct quote from Croyle admitting illegal practices, just what is in the stormwater at MCSP and the undocumented source of contamination? For starters, let’s take a look at Fecal Coliforms. For review, fecal coliforms are the group of total coliforms that are considered to be present specifically in the gut and feces of warm-blooded animals; however, the presence of these does not differentiate between human and animal as the source of the bacteria. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most reliable indicator of fecal contamination because it is specific to fecal material from warm-blooded animals; however, E. coli is still not human-specific and can survive in soil and water for multiple days. Additional testing is required for human fecal identification. That testing has not been done and CDCR suggests the source of coliform detected in the samples is avian. That’s right bird waste, not human.
At Guard Tower 3, of the 274 samples taken, there were 273 detections of Fecal Coliform with an average of 2,005 (MPN/100ml)9, with the highest reading being greater than 160,00010. Note that MPN/100ml is the most probable number per 100 milliliters. E. Coli testing of 283 samples taken, had 272 detections with an average of 1,213 and the highest reading coming in at 72,700.
As some of us may not be familiar with scientific terms, we used a conversion to new novice user-friendly units. A Fecal Coliform level of 2,000 is like 2.000 buttwipes/bathtub or .200 turds per swimming pool. The scale only went as high as 5 million, which is equal to 5,000 buttwipes/bathtub or 500 turds per swimming pool. The reading at Guard Tower 3 of greater than 160,00010 is, well, off the scale.
Over a 30-day period, the number of E. Coli cells should not exceed 200 per 100ml of water, on average. Also, no single sample should ever exceed 1,000 E. coli cells per 100ml of water.
At Guard Tower 4, of the 228 samples taken, there were 223 detections of Fecal Coliform with an average of 1,086 (MPN/100ml)8, with the highest reading being greater than 1,6009. E. coli testing of 227 samples taken, had 225 detections with an average of 859, and the highest reading coming in at 2,420.
This is the same area where four workers became mysteriously ill while digging, what they decided was a drainage system and culvert to illegally hide contaminated discharges and get it to runoff into Mule Creek. They also stated on the record that they never saw a bird the entire time they were on the job site.
At Guard Tower 5, of the 1 sample taken, there was 1 detection of Fecal Coliform with a reading of 4.5. E coli testing of that sample had a reading of 12.1.
At MCSP6, a single sample detected Fecal Coliform at 170. The three samples all tested and detected E. coli, with the average reading of 127 and the highest at 228.
At MCSP3, of the two samples take, there were two detections of Fecal Coliform with an average of 18,700 (MPN/100ml)7, with the highest reading being 35,000. E. coli testing of 3 samples taken, had 3 detections with an average of 23,458 and the highest reading being 34,480.
In the upstream testing of Mule Creek of the nine samples, there were nine detections of Fecal Coliform with the average of 1,196 (MPN/100ml)6, with the highest reading of 3,500. E. coli testing of 10 samples taken, ten detections with an average of 988, and the highest reading coming in at 3,130.
In the midstream testing of Mule Creek of the six samples, there were six detections of Fecal Coliform with the average of 1,115 (MPN/100ml)6, with the highest reading of 1,600. E. coli testing also had six detections with the average being 1,377 and the highest greater than 2,419.60.
In the downstream testing of Mule Creek, of 17 samples there were 17 detections of Fecal Coliform with an average of 3,012 (MPN/100ml)6, and the highest reading of 17,000. E. coli testing of 18 samples had 18 detections, with the average being 2,767 and highest at 7,490.
Guard Tower 3 Pre-storm Event Sample results show that of the 190 samples for Fecal Coliform, there were 190 detections with the average of 933 (MPN/100ml)7, with the highest reading of 9,200. E. coli testing of the 190 samples, had detections of 189 with the average being 626, and the highest reading of 2,420.
Guard Tower 3 During Storm Event Sample results show that of the 33 samples, there were 32 detections averaging 8,803 (MPN/100ml)8, and the highest reading of 160,000. E. coli testing of 34 samples, had 33 detections with an average of 3,027 and the highest reading of 38,730.
When asked to comment regarding CDCR’s “plan is to discharge illegally any time there is a measurable amount of rain in the forecast,” as quoted by Croyle (a Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board employee), Andrew Altevogt, Assistant Executive Officer for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board said he would have to see the full email and would not comment.
When asked why the CDCR has not faced a single fine, Altevogt said that the CDCR has been in full cooperation and active in its investigation to issues at MCSP. Additionally, they seem to be following their MS4 designation (Regulated Small Municipal Separate Storm Water System. CDCR sought out and received the MS4 from the RWQCB in February of 2019, well after multiple complaints of contamination and the Ledger Dispatch investigative series began.
When asked what he thought of the CDCR’s findings —the numbers regarding Fecal Coliform, E. coli, oil, grease, petroleum, VOC’s and other contaminants spewing from under MCSP; the number of broken lines, joint defects, deformities, leaks, blockages, collapsed, cracked and broken lines in weekly reports and now the Revised Stormwater Collection System Investigation Report of Findings released on November 1, 2019, Altevogt said he had not reviewed the report at this time.
“It’s clear to me that there are major issues at MCSP and by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s own admission CDCR is continually in violation of the WDRs and the Clean Water Act,” said Stacy Rhoades, Ione City Councilman. “This is criminal in and of itself. Both need to be held accountable. Being that CDCR is the biggest and most powerful government machine in all this, all other agencies have their hands tied. I would hope the Amador County Board of Supervisors, as well as the City of Ione, work together to get these issues addressed and get the United States Federal Government here to take control.”