The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has started the process of an enforcement action against the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for violations of the federal Clean Water Act. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:
The violations the state cites are due to inadequate treatment of wastewater from the Talkeetna sewer lagoon. The borough operates the lagoon under an ADEC permit. That permit requires that certain criteria be met in the water that is eventually released into the Talkeetna River.
For the last two years, ADEC has issued a number of violations, specifically for low levels of dissolved oxygen and high levels of fecal coliform. Dissolved oxygen is an important factor in the natural breakdown of potentially harmful bacteria in wastewater. If oxygen is not present in sufficient quantities, then the treatment process does not work as designed. Fecal coliform is a bacterial indicator. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not classify the bacteria as particularly harmful, a high level of fecal coliform can indicate the presence of bacteria that are harmful to humans.
This year, the Mat-Su Borough undertook a number of steps to try to bring the lagoon back into compliance, including artificially aerating the water, replanting vegetation, and clearing obstructions that block oxygen transfer and ultraviolet light, which is another factor in eliminating potentially harmful pathogens.
While the numbers did improve as the summer season went on, they were at best near or over the limits of the lagoon’s permit.
Late last month, the ADEC sent a letter to the borough stating the violations and the potential penalties, which could amount to tens of thousands of dollars per day of violation.
The letter also includes what the state calls an “opportunity to confer,” meaning the state and borough can meet to discuss the current situation and what could be done to help solve the issue without resorting to civil penalties. Michael Solter, Compliance Program Manager with ADEC, says that, while nothing is certain, it is likely that meetings between his department and the borough could result in an action plan and timeline for bringing the lagoon into compliance.
Terry Dolan, Public Works Director for the Mat-Su Borough, says his department is looking at continuing the work done this summer as well as the potential for new equipment, such as artificial UV lighting. Dolan says a meeting is being coordinated with ADEC, and that his department will take any new requirements from the state seriously.
The Talkeetna sewer lagoon stopped discharging in October, and will not resume discharge until next spring.