Press Release from Surfrider Foundation and Humboldt Baykeeper
EUREKA, Calif – Surfrider Foundation, Humboldt Baykeeper and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) are calling for the City of Eureka to fix an ongoing sewage problem in Humboldt Bay instead of trying to evade minimum state water quality standards.
The City had been operating on the assumption that the treated sewage discharged from its Elk River Wastewater Treatment plant washes out to sea, but a 2014 study determined that much more of the treated sewage (also known as “wastewater” or “effluent”) remains in Humboldt Bay than was previously understood. In 2016, the City was ordered by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) to “cease and desist” discharging into Humboldt Bay and move to an ocean discharge by 2030. The City is instead asking for an exemption to existing water quality rules so it can continue pumping up to 12 million gallons of treated sewage alongside the Elk River Slough, home to “Stinky’s Beach,” a popular winter surf break, year-round fishing and critical coastal habitat.
“The sewage is really only partially treated. All the pharmaceuticals and lots of other stuff we put into our bodies and down the drain comes out the same way it goes in. Antibiotics, hormones and viruses. – Ick!” said Jen Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper.
The criteria required to qualify for the exemption include full protection of “beneficial uses” such as surfing, swimming and shellfish harvesting, and compliance with ammonia objectives but the City’s proposed exemption does neither of those things. Additionally, neither the City nor the Regional Water Board has held any public workshops or otherwise informed people about the treated sewage discharge remaining in the bay. The City’s website still claims “The outgoing tide carries the treated wastewater past the mouth of Humboldt Bay and into the ocean.” The public also deserves to be in the know that the City’s proposed exemption would result in rate increases for not only Eureka residents but all Humboldt Community Services District ratepayers.
“The Elk River peninsula is protected from large winter swells and serves as a busy surf break for children and people learning to surf, especially in the fall and winter months,” said Delia Bense-Kang, Surfrider Foundation Northern and Central Chapter Coordinator.” In 2020, a typical day would see 40 or more surfers paddling across the river to surf at Stinky’s.
The matter became more urgent with the announcement by the City on August 3 that wastewater entering the treatment plant was found to contain “higher than average” (in the 99th percentile of samples taken nationwide by the National Wastewater Surveillance System) concentrations of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Though the virus is most-likely killed by the chlorine treatment process, this new information highlights the importance of making sure the effluent does not remain in the bay.
Instead of investing in better wastewater treatment, the City instead is proposing to build an “interpretive center” near Elk River. The groups question whether this is the most appropriate use of taxpayer funds that are directed to go to wastewater treatment.
Surfrider, Humboldt Baykeeper and EPIC are requesting the City to thoroughly examine the feasibility of moving to an ocean discharge or to commit to significant upgrades that will improve water quality in Humboldt Bay, with proof that the minimum criteria have been met before moving forward with the proposed exemption, and that they hold at least one public workshop on the matter prior to the Regional Water Board hearing in mid-August. All three organizations have requested the Regional Water Board deny the exemption in its current form.
Humboldt Baykeeper works to safeguard our coastal resources for the health, enjoyment, and economic strength of the Humboldt Bay community, and is a member of the California Coastkeeper Alliance and the international Waterkeeper Alliance.
Surfrider Foundation is a global nonprofit dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, beaches and waves for all people. Surfrider’s Humboldt chapter has been active in the region for more than 30 years.
The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) advocates for the protection and restoration of Northwest California using an integrated, science-based approach, combining public education, citizen advocacy and strategic litigation.
The City of Eureka’s Elk River Wastewater Treatment plant was built in 1984, and discharges up to 12 million gallons of effluent a day – the same amount that is proposed by the Nordic AquaFarms project in Samoa. It currently operates under an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit that is set to expire on July 31, 2021.