Ventura Fined $700,000 for Discharges Into River

Times Staff Writer

The city of Ventura was fined more than $700,000 this week for continued failure to correct problems at its water reclamation facility, which discharges into the Santa Clara River.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board cited the city for 244 violations of the discharge permit for its wastewater treatment plant from February 2000 to July 2005. The city has 90 days to appeal.

In announcing the fine, however, the board's executive officer emphasized the positive.

"They have been working diligently to bring themselves into compliance," Jonathan Bishop said Friday. "Since July, they've had one violation, so we've seen great improvement at the plant."

A city official said most of the violations, which allowed elevated levels of mercury, zinc, cyanide, lead and coliform to flow into the river's estuary, occurred as Ventura was completing a $14-million seismic upgrade of the facility, near Ventura Harbor.

Don Davis, Ventura's utilities manager, said the 48-year-old plant has the capacity to clean 14 million gallons of water daily and handles more than 95% of the city's wastewater needs.

Because several above-ground storage tanks began to crack and leak, the city had to take portions of its secondary treatment system offline to make repairs and upgrades, he said.

"You should never violate your discharge standards, but it's difficult to know how we could have handled these improvements any other way," Davis said. The water agency, he said, "realized we're doing the best we can to get the problem fixed. But there are state statutes that if you exceed standards, you have to pay a minimum dollar amount."

The city is designing a second phase of improvements at the facility. Davis said the project, which is expected to cost more than $20 million, would increase the system's ability to disinfect the wastewater.

Ron Bottorff, chairman of the environmental group Friends of the Santa Clara River, said Ventura must continue its repairs to prevent pollution from reaching the estuary.

"I would encourage them to move forward in a responsible and expeditious manner to get the problem cleared up. It has been quite a while that this has been going on," Bottorff said.

The fines were detailed Thursday at a water board meeting in Simi Valley. At the same meeting, the board rejected a request from the owner of the Santa Susana Field Lab, a former nuclear test facility on a hilltop in eastern Ventura County, to delay implementation of stricter pollution standards.

Boeing Co., which owns and operates the more than 2,800-acre rocket-testing facility above Simi Valley near the Los Angeles County line, said wildfires in 2003 and the Topanga fire last fall destroyed pollution control systems, making it unlikely that the company would be able to adhere to the stringent clean water standards in its current permit.

But board members said the aerospace giant had sufficient time to replace the systems and must also meet 207 new limits for controlling pollutants at the 18 locations where water is monitored at the field lab.

"We regret that the board did not recognize Boeing's need for more time," said Inger Hodgson, a Boeing spokeswoman. "Our goal is compliance, and we'll continue with our efforts."

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