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June 5, 2023

San Juan Bautista reaches settlement with EPA

The City of San Juan Bautista came to a settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over violations for discharging wastewater into San Juan Creek.

The EPA on Aug. 27 issued a press release stating that the settlement requires the city to make major updates to the wastewater treatment plant, which must be finished and compliant by Dec. 31, 2023. 

“The upgrades at the San Juan Bautista wastewater treatment plant will be critical to protecting public health and water quality of the San Benito River watershed,” said John Busterud, EPA Pacific Southwest Regional administrator. “Partnering with the water boards, we are pleased to work with the City of San Juan Bautista to achieve these improvements to the city’s wastewater operations.”

An EPA inspection in June 2019 found that the city’s wastewater discharges violated the federal Clean Water Act as the water would go into San Juan Creek, which then flowed to the San Benito River. The violations included discharges of pollutants such as chlorides and sodium in excess of its permit. 

City Manager Don Reynolds presented a staff report to the city council on Aug. 18, recommending that they adopt a resolution to the terms and conditions provided by the EPA. He said in the report that an Administrative Order on Consent was used to form a plan that would make the wastewater treatment plant in compliance with its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. 

“The city was made aware that a draft AOC was being created to ensure the city remained committed to bringing itself back into compliance with its NPDES permit by December 31, 2023,” said Reynolds in the staff report. 

The City of San Juan Bautista, EPA and the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board agreed that the city needs to come up with “a plan and implement capital improvements to return the wastewater treatment plant to compliance.” 

The city failed to properly monitor and maintain records along with inadequately operating and maintaining its wastewater treatment system, according to the EPA. The treatment system can treat approximately 500,000 gallons per day of wastewater generated by a population of about 2,500 and three vegetable processors, according to the press release. 

“The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board fully supports EPA’s efforts to bring the city into compliance with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirements to ensure the protection of water quality and the environment,” said Thea Tryon, assistant executive officer for the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Reynolds wrote in the staff report that the city had already met the first two items in the Order for Compliance on Consent listed on the AOC document. The city certified to EPA that baffles in Pond No. 2 have been repaired so that they function to prevent short circuiting and that the UV disinfection system is functioning at full capacity.

Next up, the city has to remove the chlorides, sodium and total dissolved solids, which the wastewater treatment plant was not equipped to do. The fourth matter is selecting a “Compliance Project” and submitting it to the EPA for approval.  

Reynolds said the remaining items in the section will include updates on the progress for completing the project through Dec. 31, 2023. 

“Both the EPA and the city’s team recognize that there are big variables in these remaining steps, and will work together to adjust the schedule as needed,” he said.

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