Water board says septic tanks threaten aquifer, calls for sewer system

September 23rd, 2013 | by Ian James | Comments

NORTH PALM SPRINGS Among the windmills and open desert between Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, gas stations and fast food restaurants line Highway I-10 at the Indian Canyon Drive exit. The businesses rely on septic tanks, and state water regulators say it’s time to build a sewer system to prevent sewage from tainting the drinking water supply.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board sent a letter raising the issue on Sept. 11 to officials at Mission Springs Water District, the cities of Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, and Riverside County.

Jose Angel, assistant executive officer of the board for the Colorado River Basin Region, noted in the letter that the aquifer beneath the area is a source of drinking water. He said the use of septic tanks “poses a serious threat to the aquifer’s water quality.”

Angel said the board’s staff “cannot support the ongoing use of conventional septic systems” in the area along I-10.

As the economy improves, more businesses are expected to set up shop near the freeway exits.

“When you have a very high density of septic systems overlaying a source of drinking water, we’re just asking for trouble,” Angel said in an interview Monday. He noted that areas to the north and south of the I-10 corridor have sewers, “so why would we not coordinate efforts and nickel and dime the environment?”

Mission Springs Water District commissioned a preliminary report in 2012 to build a sewer system and treatment plant.

“We are quite a ways along in doing the planning for that. We just need to get funding to do it,” said Arden Wallum, the water district’s general manager. He said the cost has been projected at about $20 million, and officials plan to pursue grants to help pay for the project, in addition to establishing an assessment district.

The water district has in recent years extended sewer lines to thousands of homes elsewhere in Desert Hot Springs, taking them off septic tanks.

The gas stations and fast food restaurants in the area along I-10 are located near the groundwater recharge ponds at Windy Point, where imported Colorado River water flows into the soil and percolates down to the aquifer.

In order to allow more growth in the area, building sewers is the responsible way to protect the drinking water supply, Wallum said.

“We’re getting asked to help set this up by business owners in that area who I think realize that in the long run, it’s just a prudent way to do it,” Wallum said. “There are some businesses that are waiting to move forward.”

It’s not clear how long it could take for the sewer to be built. The timetable, Wallum said, will depend on how soon the funding can be lined up.

Angel said he was writing to the local and county agencies to coordinate the construction of a sewer system “at the earliest predictable time.”

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