City of Los Banos Photo by Rick Justice, City of Los Banos Public Works Operations Manager

Multiagency Task Force Assists Small Community

By Roni Gehlke, Clean Water Magazine editor, Resource Recovery

Rick Justice faced his first significant challenge just three weeks into his new role as Public Works Operations Manager for the City of Los Banos. A local company’s private sewer lift station malfunctioned, causing sewage to overflow into their parking lot and into the storm drain.

Stormwater Discharge by Rick Justice, City of Los Banos Public Works Operations Manager

Stormwater Discharge Photo by Rick Justice, City of Los Banos Public Works Operations Manager

In his previous position as the program manager for the City of Stockton’s Stormwater Division, he was well aware of the severe consequences of illicit discharges into the stormwater system. As a result, he knew that immediate action had to be taken to avoid further environmental damage.

Although the solution appeared straightforward, Justice faced several challenges. Firstly, the company was situated on a parcel divided between the City of Los Banos and the jurisdiction of Merced County. Secondly, the absence of a clear regulatory authority for overseeing this type of business raised concerns. Thirdly, there was a need to reevaluate the company’s stormwater permit with the state to ensure it was the correct type of permit. Unable to find any immediate solutions and concerned about potential political implications, Justice sought assistance from various agencies.

“I spearheaded a significant endeavor for the City of Los Banos by assembling an intergovernmental task force,” Justice said. “It represents the city’s inaugural joint inspection effort for a facility requiring intricate multi-jurisdictional coordination and enforcement.”

The task force was a collaboration that brought together professionals from the City of Los Banos Public Works staff, the Merced County Cupa/HazMat Unit, and the State of California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB).

Justice contacted both the RWQCB and Merced County because polluted stormwater runoff had the potential to discharge into a private stormwater basin located on the County’s side or into an irrigation canal.

“I expected maybe one person from the RWQCB would show up at our first task force meeting,” Justice said. “But was excited when four people from the Board came.”

Los Banos is a small town in the Central Valley’s Merced County with roughly 48,000 residents. As the Public Works Operations Manager, Justice oversees a broad spectrum of responsibilities within the Public Works Department’s Utilities Division.

“This includes focusing on vital services such as water quality services, wastewater treatment operations, wastewater and stormwater collections, utilities and maintenance, and the Industrial Waste Pretreatment and Stormwater Programs,” he said.

Justice believes that the best possible outcome was achieved by forming the task force. Ultimately, the company concurred with the group’s suggestions, ensuring compliance with environmental regulations.

“This joint effort signifies a pivotal step towards future collaborations to address immediate environmental and stormwater challenges effectively,” he said.

He means not only for his city but for other municipalities and agencies to collaborate in similar situations. He encourages those who face similar problems to seek assistance from external organizations and utilize all available resources to address concerns that impact freshwater streams.

“This collaboration marks a significant milestone for the City, representing our first multi-agency effort addressing environmental concerns,” Justice said.