Landfill near Marysville faces steep fine over storm runoff

A landfill near Marysville could be fined $440,440 by the state for failing to contain runoff from composting operations at the site, which is located near the Yuba River.

The Yuba Sutter Landfill, operated by Recology Inc., is a closed landfill that now functions as a garbage transfer station. It also holds a large composting operation for green waste collected in Marysville, Yuba City and surrounding areas.

In 2013, Recology was required by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board to install a drainage collection system for the composting operation by Oct. 1, 2014. The system must be able to handle runoff expected in a storm with a one-in-four chance of occurring in any given year, or about 3.16 inches of rain in a 24-hour period.

According to a complaint filed Jan. 20, Recology had the system operating by Oct. 1, although water board staff had previously warned that the system may not be large enough. Storms in December later proved that to be true, according to the complaint.

A storm on Dec. 3 produced 1.83 inches of rain in a 24-hour period – well below the design requirement – and a visit during the storm by water board inspectors noted numerous problems.

“Staff noted that leachate ponded on the compost pad instead of draining into the collection system,” the complaint states, “the pumping capacity of the sumps was inadequate, the storage tanks were overtopping and spilling, and staff observed leachate discharge off-site.”

This occurred even through Recology also pumped far more leachate into the city of Marysville wastewater treatment plant than expected. In its wastewater plan, the company said it would need to send 65,000 gallons to the treatment plant to control runoff. During the Dec. 3 storm, it actually pumped about 160,000 gallons, according to the water board.

Before another storm on Dec. 11, Recology improved pumping capacity and added storage tanks to more than double its leachate holding capacity to 672,000 gallons. The storm delivered slightly less rainfall than the Dec. 3 event, yet produced similar results: overwhelmed pumps, poor drainage and runoff leaving the site.

During the storm, according to water board inspectors, “employees and contractors were working to plumb the storage tanks and install additional pumps, indicating that the new upgrades to the collection system were not fully operational at the time of this storm event.”

Eric Potashner, senior director of strategic affairs at Recology, said the collection system was sized based on engineering projections conducted during the dry season to estimate winter storm flows. It performed well, he said, during smaller storms in November. But he acknowledged subsequent storms showed it needed more work.

“The very heavy rains in early December provided actual field data of water flows on the site during larger storms that were used to recalibrate the engineering,” Potashner said via email. “Recology will continue to work with the (water board) to enhance all of our compost facilities.”

Drainage leaving the landfill enters the Yuba River, which then flows downstream into the Feather River, the Sacramento River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Along the way, those waters serve as a drinking water supply to more than a million residents of the greater Sacramento region, as irrigation water for farms and as habitat for protected fish species, including salmon.

The $440,440 fine is based on the potential threat to those resources. Inspectors also determined that site conditions represent a “major” violation of the original 2013 cleanup order. The fine is less than the maximum possible fine of $560,000.

Recology has until Feb. 18 to either pay the fine or request a settlement. Otherwise, the water board will decide whether to impose the fine at its meeting on April 16 and 17 in Fresno.

Call The Bee’s Matt Weiser at (916) 321-1264. Follow him on Twitter @matt_weiser.