Mule Creek

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) opened the stormwater slide gates at Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) dumping a total of 1,847,644 gallons of industrial waste containing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Semivolatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs) into Mule Creek in Ione during the month of January. This following a 5,981,830 gallon spill reported on December 10, 2019.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board that regulates the CDCR and MCSP facility confirmed back in January of 2018, that the discharge flows into Mule Creek from MCSP was not solely storm water or irrigation water, but was gray water, sewage, industrial waste from prison industries, or a mixture. At that time, CDCR was ordered to cease and desist dumping into Mule Creek, they were to install flow meters on the storm drain, and install “baker tanks” to accommodate the accumulated flow from MCSP and hold it temporarily until it could be sent into the sewer system.

In complete defiance of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, the CDCR continues to open their slide gates, has removed flow meters, and for a short time utilized 12 baker tanks, not the suggested 80, though it is not known if they utilize any at this time. The issue of contamination has been documented back as far as October 2017 when David Anderson and his work crew fell ill from contamination exposure at MCSP where they were installing a culvert, but property owners along Mule Creek say contamination has been going on for decades.

“Look, I witnessed first-hand the contamination, the sewage, the industrial waste,” said Anderson. “In fact, I believe they hired us to build a culvert to hide and coverup the river of contamination they are sending to Mule Creek. Four of us got sick and no one cared. Property owners have had animals get sick from Mule Creek. A firefighter recently said he got dizzy washing his face with water from Mule Creek while he was fighting a fire. There’s plenty of documentation that shows the CDCR is the cause of widespread contamination from MCSP into Mule Creek and no one is doing anything about it.”

In October of 2019, the CDCR released their Revised Stormwater Collection System Investigation Report of Findings conducted by SHN Engineers & Geologists. That investigation into MCSP uncovered a number of structural issues with pipes in their sewer systems and storm drain system that have been ignored. In fact, it’s unclear if the Central Valley Water Board has even had time to read the report that is over 16,000 pages long.

Ione City Councilman Stacy Rhoades, took a different approach and followed and reviewed weekly reports as the investigation was occurring in August of 2019.

“I reviewed the first sixteen reports and found: five sewer main leaks, one sewer main joint defect with no leak, three sewer lateral-joint defects with leaks, two sewer lateral-joint defects with no leaks, 14 sanitary sewer leaks, eight sanitary sewer joint defects with no leaks, seven sanitary sewer broken lines, 19 broken storm drains, 47 storm drain joint defects with leaks, 31 storm drain joint defects with no leaks, four storm drains with roots in the lines, ten storm drain collapses, one grease waste line joint defect with a leak, and two grease waste line joint defects with no leaks,” said Rhoades. “The problems they face at MCSP are huge, costly to fix, and likely across the California Prison system. They have a multi-million, possible billion dollar problem, and no way to fix it.”

At this same time (August 2019), a CDCR employee sent a text message to the Ledger Dispatch stating: “So, NorCal Pipe has been at MCSP for about 45 days with a camera and vac truck finding lots of breaks in the sewer lines. Imagine that.”

The Ione City Council, aside from reviewing the reports has done nothing with regards to the contamination flowing through their city. Similarly, the Amador County Board of Supervisors, while discussing the issue, have done nothing going so far as to say that their hands are tied and that they aren’t responsible for the regulation or monitoring of MCSP despite documented contamination of Mule Creek.

MCSP is not the only California State Corrections facility with a history of waste water issues. A review of records by the Ledger Dispatch found incidents at prisons up and down the State. The famous Folsom State Prison was fined $700,000 dollars for spilling sewage into the American River in 2000. The California Men’s Colony in San Luis has been cited for numerous sewer spills as recently as 2016, including a 2004 incident when more than 220,000 gallons of raw sewage went into a nearby creek, resulting in a fine of $600,000. The Deuel Vocational Institution outside of Tracy has had 15 different incidents that resulted in fines tracked by the Regional Water Quality Board from 2004 to the present, and recently Deuel settled with the board for fines in the millions of dollars. The Sierra Conservation Center outside of Jamestown in Tuolumne County, paid a $33,000 fine for a water violation in 2012. San Quentin State Prison spilled sewage into San Francisco Bay in 2008 and the Correctional Training facility in Soledad had a series of spills in 2012 and 2013. MCSP was fined $50,000 by the Regional Water Quality Control Board from an incident in 2007 that resulted in a sewage spill and contaminated wells.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s current fines for industrial waste and contamination of Mule Creek, for not following orders to cease and desist discharging into Mule Creek, for 7,829,474 gallons of industrial waste into Mule Creek in December 2019 and January 2020 – none.

Official comment from the Central Valley Water Board – none.