Sequoia National Park vows to fix Lodgepole treatment plant where sewage spilled

Clover Creek effluent storage tank.
Clover Creek effluent storage tank. Special to The Bee

A wastewater treatment plant in Sequoia National Park overflowed this summer but the park service made a temporary fix and is working on a permanent one, Superintendent Woody Smeck said in a letter to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in Fresno.

The board, which regulates wastewater treatment plants, could impose fines on the national park but has yet to act.

Smeck’s letter blamed the overflow on inaction by the former chief plant operator, Dale Oviedo.

Oviedo, who has since taken a job at another federal agency, said he did the only thing he thought he could do and that was report the overflow to the state agency.

“I feel like I did a good thing,” Oviedo said. “I did a public service. They’re going to get better with the way they manage the facility.”

The overflow of the effluent tank happened in June at the Clover Creek wastewater treatment plant serving the Lodgepole area along the General’s Highway.

The water quality control board said it received a complaint about sewage effluent overflowing from a tank and made a visit, according to the notice of violation issued in August. The overflow threatened ground and surface water, the notice states.

Also, the National Park Service failed to report a spill within 24 hours as required, and failed to keep the plant’s control systems in good working order, the notice said.

Smeck’s letter said the overflow could have been prevented by activating a manual override procedure. Also, the chief plant operator did not immediately report the problem, he said.

But Oviedo said in a written response that he was not aware of any manual procedure.

He said he made a daily entry in the logbook that the system was not working properly and that his supervisor knew the plant was overflowing. He also said he was instructed never to communicate with the state regulator.

The Park Service did not deny the issues listed in the notice of violation.

“We take this matter very seriously and have implemented steps and will take additional measures outlined in this response to ensure no future violations occur,” Smeck’s letter stated.

Last year, Sequoia National Park started a $1 million construction project to upgrade the Clover Creek plant, the letter said.

Regulators also reviewed the logbooks and found 110 violations of procedures between March 2008 and May 2016, mostly involving missing data and missing signatures.

Other issues included missing reports, too much coliform in discharge samples, too many suspended solids and more outflows in winter months than allowed.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold