South Kern Sol, News Report, Clara Bruno
Water is always a sensitive issue for residents of Lamont. Which is why several dozen community members gathered recently to hear about a new study highlighting the potential impact of a proposed plan by the Lamont Public Utilities District (PUD) to handle the area’s wastewater.
The Lamont PUD provides drinking water and wastewater management services to the communities of Lamont and Weedpatch. Wastewater is sent to a compost facility owned by Recology, which in turn leases 130 acres a few miles south of Lamont to grow non-food crops such as feed for cattle.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has regulatory oversight over Lamont PUD, requires that the agency provide a backup Plan B in case Recology cannot collect the wastewater at its facility.
The plan, was announced in early 2015. In the case that Recology is unable to collect the wastewater, Plan B would see the water diverted toward irrigating nearby fields owned and leased by the Lamont PUD for use in growing feed and other non-food crops.
The study, conducted by the research firm SKEO Solutions and V&A Consulting, looked at the possible benefits of the plan, as well as the potential damage it could cause to the local environment and residents’ health. Marcus Griswold of SKEO Solutions and Nicole Kwan of V&A Consulting presented the study’s findings during a community forum hosted by Building Healthy Communities South Kern on Jan. 26 at the David Head Center.
Griswold and Kwan highlighted the plan’s cost effectiveness and relatively shorter timeline for completion as being among the benefits.
“The main piece of Plan B is to restore the soil so that it can be healthier, it is estimated to cost around 400 thousand per year for three years,” says Griswold. “The soil should be in good condition after three years.”
They also noted that both the Lamont PUD and Recology had tentatively signed off on the plan, and that, if implemented, it would have no impact on water and sewer rates.
Still, there we many at the forum who voiced skepticism.
“The water that they are going to dump on that land that produces food for our livestock will still be going to us anyway. The milk that cows produce, we will drink. It doesn’t make sense to do that. There has to be a better, more productive way to do this,” says Roberto Garcia who lives in Lamont.
Lamont resident Jose Mireles said he had hoped for more ideas on how to improve the plan. “I was expecting a little bit more. I would have loved to see them say this is Plan B, this is what we found and this is what we think will make it better.” He added that “more communication” with the community would have resulted in a better plan. “There was just not that connection with the people,” he said.
The study did make note of concerns around ensuring the area’s drinking water remain free of pesticide contaminants. It also pointed to a potential degrading of local air quality, already a going concern, resulting from wastewater vapors coming from the crop fields.
Kwan and Griswold did offer up recommendations, including training wastewater workers on safe-handling practices, and ensuring best practices to reduce odor and air emission. They also urged the Lamont PUD to minimize pesticide use and, notably, to engage the community in decisions that affect them.
Resident Gustavo Aguirre said after the meeting that “while there are several areas where Plan B can be improved, it has at least started the conversation with the Water District.”