PALM DESERT — The California Regional Water Quality Control Board (CRWQCB), Colorado River Basin Region, approved the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study and adopted the Negative Mitigated Negative Declaration for the proposed issuance of wastewater requirements for the agricultural beneficial use of treated industrial wastewater for One World Beef, LLC (OWB) Thursday, November 17.
OWB proposed they would discharge treated wastewater to an adjacent 130-acre field and a ten-acre plot next to the processing plant. The water would be at a normal rate for agricultural purposes. The fields are planted in forage crops.
“The approval of this resolution paves the way for OWB to upgrade their wastewater treatment system, change their method of disposal, and eventually discharge more than a half a million gallons of wastewater per day into Brawley’s wastewater treatment plant,” said Jose Angel, executive officer of the water board. “This is the essential step for the board to issue a permit for OWB to discharge wastewater onto 140 acres.”
OWB’s professional consultants, Environmental Resource Management, prepared the study in accordance with state CEQA guidelines to determine whether the project could have significant effect on the environment.
State water board staff determined the proposed project would not have any significant effects on the environment which cannot be mitigated to a less-than-significant level.
The board opened a public hearing for comments on the resolution.
Angel said that there written comments received from the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), the City of Brawley, and Comite Civico del Valle (CCV) a local environmental group.
“All comments were received within the commenting period which ended November 14,” said Angel. “However, the comments from the city of Brawley and the CCV were received on November 14. We defend the document we have put forth on the board’s behalf.”
The IID’s comments were regarding infrastructure requirements, permits, and other informational questions which the board staff answered.
The City of Brawley and the CCV comments were of a negative nature. Both of the entities submitted questions and comments that were in opposition to the CEQA study.
Angel went through their questions and comments, one by one, showing facts that OWB has fulfilled their due diligence in the CEQA study.
“The City needs information, it is requesting for OWB to use their wastewater treatment system,” said Angel. “We intend to help the City get what it needs to issue their permit. I think we can be instrumental in helping iron out some of the difficulties that have been associated with the permitting process.”
There were a number of people in attendance in support of OWB, including Ryan Kelley, Imperial County Supervisor.
“This is a project that the entire Valley is behind because of the ancillary businesses it affects and the jobs it will bring,” said Kelley. “Imperial County has the highest unemployment in the nation. This plant is very high on my priority list. The specter of the regional board taking further action against the City of Brawley for having a large industrial user has come into the conversation quite often. It is the fear of future fines that have put the City of Brawley in a position of less discretion or creative thinking.”
OWB owner, Eric Brandt, thanked the board and their staff and for the help in getting the permit to discharge into their ponds in January. Brandt also pointed out the fact that the County of Imperial granted a $2.5 million loan and the IID provided a $2.5 million grant for job creation. The governors’ office and other state offices have given OWB their blessing. Initially, there will be a total of 175 employees hired by OWB.
“Due to an incredible refurbishment team of 62 new employees that were hired in June of this year, along with an army of skilled local contractors, the facility is fully operational,” said Brandt. “It’s refrigerated and ready to commence operation. We have passed all of the very strict requirements of the USDA’s federal inspection and have authorization at the federal level to operate the facility. We are here to ask for your consideration.”
In opposition of OWB, Luis Olmedo, director of CCV, was not happy with the responses to CCV’s comments.
“This board’s staff has done a really lousy job at protecting the public health and the environment,” said Olmedo. “Your analysis of our comments was done with half truths. We need to be involved in the conversation. Look around the room. The color of the room needs to change.”
“It is regrettable that we were able to review the responses to our comments before today’s meeting,” said Rosanna Bayon Moore, Brawley city manager. “We take our responsibilities very seriously. We are concerned about quality of life issues.”
The attorney for the board stated that it is not part of the CEQA process to drag out the comment period with a chance to review staff’s responses.
After the vote to approve, Jayne Powell, board chair, gave a statement.
“I want the City of Brawley to understand that we are directing staff to do everything we can to make you comfortable,” said Powell. “I think it is very important that the parties involved work together and provide information that is needed.”
“The board did the right thing in approving the resolution,” said Angel. “All of the comments and questions presented to the board were legitimate concerns.”
After the meeting, Brawley councilman Sam Couchman commented that the city does not want another $1 million fine and that the city is protecting itself from that happening again.
“The action taken by the Regional Board is a critical milestone for One World Beef,” said Mayor Donnie Wharton. “I look forward to the plant’s opening and its long term success, beginning with putting the people of our Valley back to work.”