Mule Creek

On December 10, 2019 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) filed a Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Hazardous Materials Spill Report outlining a 5,981,830 gallon spill stated as stormwater coming from Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP).

MCSP explains in that report “they must open their storm gates when it rains, releasing rain water into the nearby creek. The storm gates were opened for two weeks, 14 days. Opened: November 26, 2019 at 11:30 a.m. Closed December 9, 2019 at 11:40 a.m.”

The Central Valley Water Board that regulates the CDCR and MCSP facility under Water Discharge Requirements (WDRs) Order R5-2015-0129 the treatment, storage, and disposal of domestic wastewater from the prison adjacent to Cal Fire Facility, as well as the industrial wastewater from prison industries operations. In their letter on December 9, 2019, they outline two primary compliance issues with the current WDRs that must be addressed:

“1. The current WDRs and Monitoring and Reporting Program (MRP) do not require any specific monitoring of flow or quality of the industrial waste stream. Industrial contaminants have been detected in the wastewater effluent, stormwater, and groundwater. The treatment plant is not designed to treat for these constituents.

2. The facility (MCSP) has also lost some of its spray irrigation fields due to an expansion of the prison in 2015. The Discharger (CDCR) has not yet replaced this lost disposal capacity, which may have led to overloading of the remaining spray fields.”

Indeed, Water Code 13260 Order requires the submittal of a Report of Waste Discharge (RWD) which will include information needed to address these two issues and update the Waste Discharge Requirements. These issues were described and investigated during the RWQCB inspection with CDCR staff of July 25, 2019. A summary of that inspection included:

“The treatment plant, spray fields, storage reservoir, Prison Industry Authority facilities, and industrial operations occurring within the prison. These industrial activities included the coffee roasting operation, meat packing operation, including the smokehouse, processing, and storage, two textile operations, welding and carpentry shops, janitorial training facilities, laundry facilities, and meal packing operations. Board staff observed numerous cleansers, detergents, solvents, and other chemicals used in these industrial processes. Waste chemicals generated by the processes are also stored on site for future disposal. These chemicals and the management practices described by CDCR are likely contributing to the industrial waste constituents that have been detected in the wastewater system, storage reservoir, stormwater system, and in the groundwater.

In addition, despite several months of hot, dry weather there was still a significant amount of stagnant water in the creek and surrounding lowlands. Mule Creek was dry upstream of the bridge to the Mule Creek Infill Complex (MCIC), and it appeared that all tailwater controls were in place and maintained around the sprayfields. A spill had occurred on July 13, 2019, but only 5,000 gallons of effluent had been reported to have been discharged to the creek. The amount of water in the seasonally dry Mule Creek far exceeded the reported spill volume. Therefore it appears that heavy hydraulic loading of the fields is causing seepage into the dry creek bed.”

The letter then goes on to explain that, “the current wastewater treatment plant is not designed or operated to effectively remove Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) or Semivolatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs). The lack of treatment has led to VOCs passing through the plant. Consequently, VOCs have been detected in the plant effluent, effluent storage reservoir, and groundwater underlying the storage reservoir and land application areas. In order to properly treat these waste constituents, industrial and domestic waste streams must either be segregated and treated individually with the appropriate technology, or the existing Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) must be upgraded to treat for all constituents in the combined waste stream.”

The letter outlines the decreased disposal capacity and groundwater impacts:

“In 2014 the construction of the MCIC over existing spray fields significantly decreased the total disposal capacity for the facility. In addition (and possibly as a consequence), there have been groundwater impacts due to excessive nitrate and salt loading of some spray fields. Excessive hydraulic loading has also been noted to be a probable cause of small amounts of water in Mule Creek even in the dry season (tailwater discharge has been ruled out during Board staff’s most recent inspection).

The Discharger has been seeking additional capacity to make up for the lost spray field area, most notably with the development of Woodard Bottom Sprayfields. However, the land that the Woodard Bottom Sprayfields is built on is not owned by the Discharger, and no agreement with the landowner has been made allowing the Discharger to dispose of any wastewater on this property. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has not issued any approval to dispose of any treated wastewater to that facility at this time.”

The letter than goes on to detail:

“California Water Code (CWC) Section 13173(b) defines designated waste as:

Nonhazardous waste that consist of, or contains, pollutants that, under ambient environmental conditions at a waste management unit, could be released in concentrations exceeding applicable water quality objectives or that could reasonably be expected to affect beneficial uses of the waters of the state as contained in the appropriate state water quality control plan.

The VOCs and SVOCs detected at Mule Creek State Prison are a designated waste as defined by CWC Section 13173(b).”

The letter then outlines Water Code Section 13260 Request for Report of Water Discharge:

“Section 13260 of the California Water Code states, in part:

(a) Each of the following persons shall file with the appropriate regional board a report of the discharge, containing the information that may be required by the regional board:

(1) A person discharging waste, or proposing to discharge waste, within and region that could affect the quality of waters of the state, other than into a community sewer system.

Section 13261 of the California Water Code states, in part:

(a) A person who fails to furnish a report or pay a fee under Section 13260 when so requested by a regional board is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be liable civilly …

(b)(1) Civil liability may be administratively imposed by a regional board or the state board in accordance with Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 13323) of Chapter 5 for a violation of subdivision (a) in an amount not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each day in which the violation occurs. Civil liability shall not be imposed by the regional board pursuant to this section if the state board has imposed liability against the same person for the same violation.

Section 13264 of the California Water Code states, in part:

(a) No person shall initiate any new discharge of waste or make any material changes in any discharge, or initiate a discharge to, make material changes in a discharge to, or construct, an injection well, prior to the filing of the report required by Section 13260 and no person shall take any of these actions after filing the report but before whichever of the following occurs first: (1) The issuance of waste discharge requirements pursuant to Section 13263.

Section 13265 of the California Water Code states:

Any person discharging waste in violation of Section 13264, after such violation has been called to his attention in writing by the regional board, is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be liable civilly in accordance with subdivision (b). Each day of discharge shall constitute a separate offense.

Section 13376 of the California Water Code states, in part:

A person who discharges or proposes to discharge pollutants to the navigable waters of the United States within the jurisdiction of this state…shall file a report of the discharge in compliance with the procedures set forth in section 13260.”

In closing their letter, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board requires a response from CDCR.

“CDCR is responsible for Mule Creek State Prison as the owner of the property where the industrial activities and subsequent discharge of waste are taking place. These discharges pose an unacceptable risk to the water quality of the state.”

“No later than June 1, 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall submit a Report of Waste Discharge fully describing how compliance issues described above will be addressed, in accordance with Water Code section 13260.”

The letter is signed by Andrew Alltevogt, Assistant Executive Officer for the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board, and says questions regarding the letter can be handled by Kenny Croyle by calling (916) 464-4676.