By Randy J. Vessels, RCAC rural development specialist
The Colusa Indian Community in rural California, just west of the smallest mountain range in the world, bustles with entertainment opportunities, ranging from a casino to outdoor adventures. Yet the community struggled to maintain compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.
With ongoing technical assistance from Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), the Western RCAP, Colusa’s water and wastewater system has maintained compliance and open communication with EPA. The good rapport has resulted in zero compliance violations to date. Colusa currently has four certified water operators and continues to seek increased grade levels including certification in California wastewater treatment.
Most recently, RCAC technical assistance providers worked with the Colusa Indian Community to reduce excessive costs of sludge handling. The wastewater treatment system produces sludge as a part of its normal functioning treatment process. However, storage is limited, so at some point disposal is necessary. A large percentage of Colusa’s budget was set aside for sludge disposal. Colusa asked RCAC rural development specialist Randy Vessels for assistance in determining other means of disposal. Several methods were researched, and one was demonstrated on-site. After much thought was given to overall costs, design and footprint, it was decided that drying beds would be used.
A pilot system was installed and put into operation. The process produces a very dry product and requires only a small amount of land. It worked exceedingly well — the $9,600 investment reduced the system’s hauling costs by half. In 2009, two additional drying beds were installed, which eliminated the need for sludge removal services altogether. Two more drying beds are budgeted for 2010. The four beds are handling the sludge production, but the additional bed will provide for future growth. Colusa’s foresight and prudence creates huge savings for the community, and the treated sludge is reused to benefit the environment. Colusa has begun reusing treated wastewater for growing native plant life and trees. Proper connections, signage, and operator training have created a reuse of nearly one-third of their previously discharged treated wastewater.
Colusa continues to strive to be earth-friendly by maximizing source water protection, beneficial water reuse, drinking water well and distribution system monitoring, and operator certification. Colusa Operator Larry Swift said, “RCAC has been a big help in all our water and wastewater needs, and we look forward to utilizing their technical assistance providers for future needs.”