Turlock’s Regional Water Quality Control Facility has received a notice of violation from the California Water Board after exceeding the permitted levels of a toxic chemical.
According to Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke, the incident occurred on July 8, 2013 when the concentration of Dichlorobromomethane — a hazardous liquid by-product chemical that forms when chlorine is used to disinfect public water supplies — exceeded the permitted limit.
With more than 70 percent of public water supplies being disinfected with chlorine nationwide, the general population is exposed to low levels of the chemical through drinking water. Health risks linked with the chemical are miniscule, as the levels found in disinfected drinking water is thousands of times lower than the amount needed to cause severe poisoning. In fact, drinking water that is not disinfected with chlorine creates a significantly higher risk of attaining infectious diseases as non-chlorinated water holds higher levels of potentially deadly contaminants.
Due to the July 8 incident, the facility’s monthly average also exceeded the permitted levels of the chemical, resulting in a second violation from the Water Control Board. After reviewing the two violations occurring at the Turlock facility, the water quality control board is set to fine the City a penalty of $6,000.
“These fines are known as mandatory minimum penalties and we are required to assess them pursuant to the California Water Code,” said Supervisor of Compliance and Enforcement Wendy Wyels. “The Water Code requires a minimum penalty of $3,000 per violation for effluent limits.”
While the permitted limit of Dichlorobromomethane is 37.2 micrograms per liter, the facility’s penalized levels measured in at 41.9. According to the Water Board’s Record of Violations, both penalties were categorized as a “serious violation” as the pollutants surpassed the effluent limitation by 20 percent or more.
According to the self-monitoring reports, the facility also violated the effluent limitations for nitrate and dibromochloromethane, however remained in compliance with interim limitations. As a result, these violations were not subject to the mandatory minimum penalties as the July violations were.
Turlock’s is not the only local facility facing recent penalties from the water quality control board. In September 2013, the cities of Modesto and Manteca received notices for violating the Clean Water Act, being fined $3,000 and $57,000 respectively.
During the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Cooke shared with the councilmembers that the violations may have been the result of the Regional Water Quality Control Boards stepping up their enforcement efforts to cover operational costs — a claim that the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board denies.
“I’m not sure what Mr. Cooke is referring to, and it seems that he is misinformed,” said Wyels. “We’re not proposing to add any staff costs or to assess the penalty above the minimum amount of $3,000 per violation.”
According to Wyels, the Regional Boards could choose to fine a City for up to $10,000 per violation.
“We’ve been assessing mandatory minimum penalties on a regular basis,” said Wyels. “This is nothing new.”
The City of Turlock last received a notice of violation from the regional board in February 2011, resulting in a $3,000 fine that has since been paid.
As for the current violations, Turlock has yet to be officially fined as the regional board is allowing the City time for comments should they believe there has been a mistake.