Graig Mantle

State water quality officials fined Cal Poly $60,000 after discovering that pollution runoff from the dairy unit had contaminated Brizzolara Creek following heavy rains last April. The school has already paid over $5,000 towards the fines, but instead of paying the remaining $55,000 in cash the agriculture department petitioned for a mitigation project. The project which will allow them to pay the fines in the form of a water quality project to improve other environmental situations in the area.

“In this plan, in lieu of just paying that fine in cash and walking away, we will be able to benefit the community through the project,” said Mark Shelton, associate dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

Cal Poly and The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo, a nonprofit environmental organization, will both be involved in rehabilitating half an acre of land along Stenner Creek. The plan is to spend the same amount of money on an environmental effort that the school would have had to pay in state water fines.

Cal Poly agriculture holds a waste discharge permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board that allows them to release a certain amount of by-product into the animal waste lagoon, a storage structure for manure. The lagoons collect the waste and protect the surrounding areas from contamination.

The agriculture department also operates using some of the liquid waste for spray fields, crop fields fertilized by a mixture of liquids and manure solids.

“We got into trouble because of the sheer volume of rainfall last April; our dairy lagoons then filled with rainwater and were not able to properly store the dairy waste. Our spray fields became overly saturated and our levels of effluent were too high,” Shelton said.

The agriculture department is currently working on several approaches to avoid any future problems with the waste from the livestock. They have petitioned to add additional spray fields to the area so that there will be a larger area over which to disperse the effluent, a term for the liquid sewage that has been treated through a septic tank or similar waste treatment process.

Cal Poly is also currently involved in a $100,000 project to create a more efficient system of separating solids and liquids in the waste lagoons. The new system would create a significant difference in the removal of solid manure and provide considerably more water occupancy to avoid overflows.

Despite all the future plans for redesign new systems are yet to be fully implemented.

“I’m frustrated with this situation at Poly; sustainability is easy to talk about but harder to do. We need to take a harder look at our energy situation and get to a higher place in reference to sustainability,” said Douglas Piirto, department head of natural resource management.

The mitigation project at Stenner Creek will graze down unwanted plants and attempt to revegetate the banks with native species. Stronger trees and roots will make the flood plain less susceptible to erosion.

“The project will include planting more trees and shrubs, doing some erosion control and possibly building more of a fence for the sheep up near Cheda Ranch,” said Kaila Dettman, Restoration Program Manager of The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo.

Work on the Stenner Creek rehabilitation project is set to start late summer to early fall.

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