Storm water at Mule Creek State Prison.

In our story in the March 20, 2020, edition of the Ledger Dispatch, “CDCR continues waste dumps into Mule Creek,” we finished the story with:

“As for the latest 121,984 gallons of industrial waste spilled into Mule Creek from Mule Creek State Prison by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 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.”

We were wrong.

In keeping with their policy of opening the slide gates with any significant rainfall to cover up and dump known industrial waste (commingling of their domestic, prison industries, and storm water sewer systems), containing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Semivolatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs) into Mule Creek, the CDCR did not dump hundreds of thousands of gallons from March 13 to March 18. They dumped millions … 5,491,248 gallons of commingled contaminants – storm water, gray water, sewage, and industrial waste – to be more precise.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) that regulates the CDCR and MCSP facility ordered CDCR to cease and desist dumping into Mule Creek, to install flow meters on the storm drain, and install “baker tanks” to accommodate the accumulated flow from MCSP back in January of 2018.

In October of 2017, workers installing a culvert documented the toxic waste flow with pictures and film. All four workers fell ill installing what they now say was an illegal pipeline to cover-up and hide the flow of pollutants and contamination from the public. One of those workers, David Anderson, has questions – lots of them, for the RWQCB and CDCR.

“While I was on site at the prison between July and December 2017, I observed a substantial amount of discharge coming from the storm water system every day. That discharge was deemed contaminated. By February 2018, the RWQCB issued a Water Board Order requiring CDCR to pump all discharge back to the sewage treatment plant,” said Anderson. “By June of 2018, CDCR did not even pretend to make an attempt at pumping the discharge back to the sewer plant and announced to the RWQCB the criteria by which they would continue to discharge. The CDCR established that sufficient rainfall would necessitate the opening of the slide gates to mitigate the additional discharge. What happens between storm events? Does CDCR do any pumping of the contaminants back to the sewer plant or do they accumulate in the system until it rains and then dump it? I think a full explanation is in order. In my opinion, the CDCR and RWQCB are working together, breaking state and federal laws, and trying to cover-up massive contamination.”

Kari Holmes, P.E., Supervising Water Resources Control Engineer Compliance and Enforcement Program of the RWQCB responded to Anderson’s questions.

What happens between storm events?

“Since the initial directive to contain and treat all storm water from the Old Prison facility in January 2018, CDCR has not reported water from the storm water system to Mule Creek during dry weather. At that time their practice was to keep the slide gates closed at each of the storm water basins and pump any collected water to the onsite wastewater treatment plant. However in March and April of 2018 it became apparent that they lacked the storage, treatment capacity, and pumping capacity to properly manage the flows discharging from their system into Mule Creek. Several of these storms caused localized flooding at the facility that overtopped containment structures and released to surface water drainages and Mule Creek. In response, in June of 2018 CDCR notified the Regional Board that rather than enhance to existing storm water controls, that they intended to modify their practice and open the slide gates prior to “significant storm events,” which CDCR defined as a storm forecasted to produce greater than 0.1 inches of precipitation in an hour or 0.3 inches of precipitation in 24 hours. Meanwhile, in an effort to begin permitting this discharge, CDCR Mule Creek State Prison was enrolled in the State Water Board’s MS4 general permit in April 2019. This permitting action would allow CDCR Mule Creek State Prison to create a program to identify and mitigate any identified illicit discharges from their storm water collection system. At this point in time, CDCR is making progress to continue to characterize the discharge from their system and identify any potential compliance issues with the MS4 permit.”

Does CDCR do any pumping of the contaminants back to the sewer plant or do they accumulate in the system until it rains?

“The two storm water basins that collect storm water from the entire perimeter system are relatively small in volume, and CDCR has set up pumps with float switches to keep the amount of standing water in the basins to a minimum at all times. The pumps discharge the collected storm water into the sanitary sewer system for treatment at the onsite wastewater treatment plant.”

In the summer months would that require opening the slide gates when sufficient storage in the system is not available?

“Dry weather flows in the storm water collection system are significantly less than flows during storm events. Based on flow data collected during the two previous summers the pumps are adequately sized to handle dry weather flows and there should be no reason to open the slide gates.”

“I’m offended by the RWQCB’s response,” said Anderson. “This is an enforcement agency allowing the CDCR to break laws, covering up and continuing practices that are illegal and harming Amador County. Read their answers, they are letting CDCR dump toxic sewage and industrial waste that has not even been identified. They all know it is sewage, pharmaceuticals, E. Coli, human waste. I documented, soap, metals, hell, even caffeine spews non-stop from MCSP. Then they grant an illegal MS4 Permit to try to cover it up or delay fixing the issue. This is a massive failure. Two state agencies covering up and contaminating a small county simply because they can. Wake up or it’s going to be too late and the plume of contamination is all you will be left with.”

Certainly, some decisions from the RWQCB support Anderson’s claims. The CDCR was granted an MS4 permit, a municipal designation which allows for some discharging. The problem – the permit was passed and granted at the February 9, 2019 RWQCB meeting, despite the fact that staff from the RWQCB pointed out that the sewer systems from MCSP were commingling, making the MS4 designation illegal and invalid.

CDCR’s own 16,000 page report from October of 2019, The Revised Storm Water Collection System Investigation Report of Findings conducted by SHN Engineers and Geologists, outlines structural issues including collapses, line breaks, defects, from under MCSP causing the widespread commingling of their sewer systems.

Since 2006, more than 50 spills into Mule Creek have been documented. The latest 5,491,248 gallons of industrial waste bring the total for the last four months to 13,442,706 gallons. Each spill is documented in a Hazardous Materials Spill Report and sent to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, as well as sent to Amador’s local Office of Emergency Services. However, note that the CDCR has incorrectly listed every spill as “storm water,” when in fact, it is storm water, gray water, sewage, and industrial waste as determined by the RWQCB and confirmed in CDCR’s own investigation into their sewer systems.

No fixes from findings or fines.