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Residents making decisions on RIBS through misinformation

To the Editor:

Conspiracy theories and misinformation versus FACTS and the truth. No, not a political debate on national television, but an issue much closer to home for all of us.

There are members of our Pahrump community who have chosen to incite fear and uncertainty among some, through the use of misinformation, exaggerated claims of expertise, confusion citing events which aren’t applicable, and outright propaganda by some.

Utilities, Inc. of Central Nevada proposed the use of Rapid Infiltration Basins (RIBs) as a means of utilizing the fully treated, recycled water discharged from its wastewater treatment plant as a final filtration method before the water returns to recharge the aquifer below the valley. This was at the encouragement of the sworn testimony the county approved by all five current county commissioners. UICN’s proposed RIBs would be of the same basic design and construction approved by the engineering experts as is the standard beneficial practice by ALL other wastewater providers currently doing business in the valley, as well as in use throughout Nye County, the state and the nation, and UICN treats our effluent water to a higher standard than required by Nevada Administrative Code for discharge through RIBs.

RIBs operate in much the same manner as the 11,000-plus septic systems in Pahrump today with one MAJOR difference discussed below. Water from the system is allowed to percolate through gravel, sedimentary soils and rock, all of which provide for elimination of potential contaminants. A typical home septic system separates solids from the water that is flushed down toilets and drains and retains those solids for later removal (when the tank becomes full) while discharging the liquid portion to what is commonly known as a “leach field” where it percolates back into the aquifer.

However, the one MAJOR difference between commercial wastewater treatment plant discharge and septic tank discharge is that the water leaving a state-of-the-art wastewater operation has been FULLY TREATED prior to entering the RIBs. Wastewater Treatment Plant 3 is a state-of-the-art treatment facility. It is what is known as a Sequencing Batch Reactor (SBR) plant. This treatment facility also includes multiple levels of treatment and chlorination and UV disinfection. The treated reuse water is treated to Category B as defined by NDEP. Category B recycled water can be used for irrigation of golf courses, parks, commercial lawns or community green belts, subsurface irrigation fields and lawns, industrial cooling processes, – no buffer zone required. And, importantly, this same reuse water discharge has been used for decades for irrigation, evaporation and percolation in unlined ponds. The addition of RIBs will add an extra layer of treatment not used in the past.

A state-of-the-art treatment plant provides high quality water best used as recycled water and benefits our over-appropriated aquifer as recognized by qualified experts locally and throughout the United States. For example, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has established a federal drinking water standard of 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or 10 parts per million (ppm) for nitrate. The Nevada groundwater quality standard is also 10 mg/L. Plant treats to 5 ppm and less for nitrates.

Importantly, and in contrast to some current myths circulating around Pahrump, UICN’s Wastewater Treatment Plant #3 has NEVER been cited for any code violation because of its fully-treated discharge.

Allegations that problems with the receiving ponds were due to the discharge on the former Willow Creek Golf Course were proven to be false by all parties who examined the actual data (e.g. FACTS).

Years of multiple lawsuits, evaluated by multiple experts on both sides of the legal argument, ALL resulted in the same conclusion: No evidence was ever presented, nor could be presented, that UICN ever made, caused or allowed illegal discharges to the ponds to occur because it simply has never happened. The NDEP Bureau of Water Pollution Control recognized this early in the accusations and legal proceedings.

“The Bureau of Water Pollution Control (BWPC) performed an onsite inspection to investigate the complaint. During the course of our inspection, BWPC did not find any indication of raw sewage being discharged to the pond recently or at any time in the past.”

And, the Fifth Circuit Court certainly understood that the real culprit was the prior owners of the golf course whose failure to maintain the ponds had created “a clear and present danger to the community.” That owner was subsequently jailed for continued failure to meet conditions set by the court regarding the pond remediation. The proposed RIBs are a part of the remediation to the hazards left by the prior owner of the property!

It is precisely because of the engineering quality and scientifically proven efficacy of treatment that the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) and the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission (in their primary duty of determining appropriate land use) approved the proposal for RIBs when presented with the FACTS. In fact, Joseph Maez, Professional Engineer and Supervisor of NDEP’s Technical, Compliance and Enforcement stated in writing as recently as February 2016 that based on his group’s review of the data, “NDEP has no compliance issues that UICN needs to address on effluent quality.”

Darrell Lacy, Professional Engineer and General Manager of the Nye County Water District, in written comments on UICN’s Integrated Resource Plan (as the endorsed representative of the Nye County Board of Commissioners) to the PUCN said with regard to the RIBs:

“Evaporation of effluent through ponds or spray fields should be eliminated. Rapid infiltration basins are encouraged and should be sited in areas to provide the maximum benefit.”

In a recent media interview, Mr. Lacy stated that, “[RIBs] are a proven process for cleaning up and making sure we don’t lose the water. We live in a desert, we can’t waste water.”

Commissioner Dan Schinhofen has said before and repeated in a February interview regarding the proposed RIBs that “They (UICN) have operated safely for years and I expect this one to do the same.”

Commissioner Donna Cox’s statements at the BOCC meeting on March 15 regarding NDEP’s oversight of all water and wastewater facilities in the state resulted in a mischaracterized report to the public through lack of information.

She stated that she spoke to a person at NDEP who works for a department which oversees one aspect – permitting. When the permit is issued, that department’s work is done and NDEP’s ever-present oversight department steps in.

She did not say she spoke to the oversight department. She did not state that she spoke to the chief of BWPC. Evidently, she didn’t even bother to listen to the Nye County Governing Water District Board meeting on February 22nd, when the chief stated that his engineers have approved RIBs throughout the state, including UICN’s proposed RIBs, and how NDEP is responsible for the monitoring and protection of our water resources and how they do that.

Evidently, she didn’t hear the Nevada Rural Water Authority Wastewater Grade 4 circuit rider state that while he has “no dog in the fight,” he wants the public to know that there is a lot of misinformation going around the room and that water percolating from a wastewater treatment plant is a lot safer for the aquifer than the multitude of septics in the valley.

Regardless of what decision is ultimately made, it is offensive for activists to try to force residents into making decisions about the community’s future based on scare tactics, inappropriate comparisons, flawed and misapplied analysis and just plain lack of FACTS about anything happening in OUR valley.

So, to the Pahrump community, I ask a simple question: Who should you believe? The multitude of licensed professional engineers (state, private and nonprofit) and experienced leaders of the community, or those, for motivations which are unclear, choose to incite fear through lies and misinformation?


Wendy Barnett

President, Utilities, Inc. of Central Nevada

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