What lies beneath

There’s no problem so gross as bad plumbing. There’s no city infrastructure component as crucial to the health and well-being of its citizens as a good sewer system. So it’s literally disgusting that the city of Folsom—with its scenic vistas, quaint shops and burgeoning upscale housing developments—has never really owned up to its bad sewerage setup.

Let’s face it: a town has to be able to carry away the waste of its population in a clean and effective manner, or it’s not good for much.

Thankfully, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has stepped in with a recent and unusual decision that will force Folsom to finally get in gear when it comes to building and maintaining sewer lines. The board normally doesn’t have to regulate entities unless they operate a regional sewerage system (which Folsom doesn’t), but they made an exception because of the city’s egregious history of incidents and responses:

• Since 1995, Folsom has experienced raw sewage spills of more than 1,000 gallons at least nine times. In the understatement of the year, regional water quality board engineer Karen Niiya said the city has problems “keeping their sewage within their sewers.”

• The worst of these spills occurred in February 2000 where an overwhelming 700,000 gallons of raw sewage and storm water overflowed from one of the city’s pump stations into a tributary of the American River. Almost 17 miles downstream, a city of Sacramento water treatment plant registered fecal bacteria counts at four times the average level for the month. To make matters worse, Folsom officials didn’t notify state regulators until 24 hours later.

• A recent consultant’s report predicted that a storm lasting six hours would push sewage out of manhole covers in five Folsom locations. City officials responded, literally, by bolting down 20 manhole covers, a move generally regarded as a “stopgap” approach since, ultimately, it causes the sewage to spill out somewhere else, perhaps into another community’s system.

• In 2001, without telling the public about it, city officials built a plastic-lined, open-air pit next to the bike trail in Lew Howard Park north of the American River. A sign nearby read “Storm Emergency Response Program.” When the town’s citizens found out officials had built a makeshift “waste holding pond” in a public park … well the “response program” didn’t last long.

So now the regulators have told Folsom that it has 10 months to do whatever it takes to permanently fix its sewers enough to withstand a six-hour downpour. Also, the regulators have given the city a generous seven years to make its sewers absolutely spillproof. That’s all fine and good. But we wish the board had gone even further and banned all new sewer connections until the problem is solved.

Seven years is too long to wait. A ban on new connections would have upped the pressure on officials and developers to fix the mess, since it’s obvious that the city’s mad rush to grow without proper infrastructure is what lies beneath this problem in the first place.