Ultimate sewer hookup

Paradise is serious about connecting to Chico’s treatment plant

Paradise Vice Mayor Jody Jones (center), a retired director of the 11-county Caltrans District 3, is eager to solve her town’s wastewater problems—with Chico’s help.

Paradise Vice Mayor Jody Jones (center), a retired director of the 11-county Caltrans District 3, is eager to solve her town’s wastewater problems—with Chico’s help.


There has been talk over the years of connecting Paradise to Chico’s sewer system. This week it got serious.

“It appears that Paradise is the largest incorporated city west of the Mississippi that is wholly dependent on septic systems,” the town’s vice mayor, Jody Jones, told Chico City Council members at their meeting Tuesday, Sept. 1. “This is not something to be proud of.”

A combination of poor soil, high water tables, difficult topography and small lots makes the proliferation of septic systems problematic, she said. A study has determined, however, that the town’s residential lots can disperse wastewater effectively. The big problem is in the town’s commercial areas.

Using a series of slides, Jones pointed out that in just the commercial strip along the Skyway between Pearson and Elliott roads there are 27 failed septic systems, 39 systems expected to fail within the next five years, and 56 more in the next 10 years. Many can’t be replaced.

This results in limits on stations in hair salons and tables in restaurants and the number of employees a business can have, Jones stated.

There are three possible solutions, she continued. One is for Paradise to build its own treatment plant. Another is to build smaller clustered systems in the commercial areas, and the third is to connect to Chico’s system. The last is the Town Council’s “preferred alternative.”

It would involve planting an 8-mile-long pipe on the south side of the eastbound Skyway and connecting it to Chico’s system. Gravity would get the sewage to Chico, with the help of a couple of pumps along the way. Jones said the estimated cost is $26 million, money that would come from creation of a sewer district as well as grants and long-term loans.

At full build-out the connection would transport 1 million gallons of wastewater a day. Mayor Mark Sorensen noted that Chico’s treatment plant has capacity for 12 million gallons daily and currently treats 7 million gallons.

Chico would receive several benefits if the connection were made, Jones said. For example, groundwater would be improved, and additional water would be available for Chico to sell for anywhere from $200,000 to $900,000 annually.

Paradise has no interest in replacing Chico as the economic hub of Butte County, she continued. But there is value in working together. “Our regional economy requires all parts of the whole to be healthy,” she said.

Several California communities have made such long-distance connections. Jones pointed to the Placer Regional Sewer Project, which when completed will transport wastewater from unincorporated North Auburn downhill to Lincoln, which has a modern treatment plant.

Jones hoped the council would agree that connection was the preferred alternative, but council members weren’t ready for that. They seemed a little stunned by the magnitude of the project.

“We need to have a discussion about this,” Councilwoman Ann Schwab said. “I’m not ready to say yea or nay right now.”

The council agreed to agendize the matter for a later meeting.

At their July 7 meeting, council members, flummoxed by the perennial problem of what to do with the 750-acre Bidwell Ranch property, authorized City Manager Mark Orme and his staff to come up with a solution. This week acting Public Works Director Erik Gustafson offered a solution of sorts: Just wait.

The Butte County Association of Governments expects to complete its Butte Regional Conservation Plan by mid-2016, and it’s likely that BCAG then will be able to purchase the property—for anywhere from $3 million to $6 million, Gustafson said—to use as a fee-based mitigation bank.

After hearing from BCAG Director Jon Clark, council members were persuaded that the chance that BCAG would be able to buy the property was high enough to warrant waiting until mid-2016. By a vote of 5-2, with Councilmen Randall Stone and Andrew Coolidge dissenting, they voted to, well, just wait.