Feb 16 2011

Commentary: Problematic Storm Water Runoff and the Blair Park Development

A letter from a Piedmont resident providing history and analysis on storm water runoff:

Are Mountain View Cemetery’s 3 Earthen Dams Safe?

A.  Before obtaining a building permit for construction of the Blair Park (BP) project, PRFO (Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization) and the City of Piedmont has to meet the RWQCB C-3 provisions and obtain a NDPES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit from the RWQCB (Regional Water Quality Control Board). The NDPES permit entails how all storm water runoff and discharge from the BP project will be handled into the existing storm culvert water infrastructure system, eventually reaching Lake Merritt (LM). The Piedmont Blair Park-Coaches Field projects will need specialized solutions to meet C-3 requirements to properly discharge their storm water to match pre-construction flow rates.  Both of their storm water mitigating design measures, ultimately meets in the same/common buried culvert drain pipe (Cemetery Creek) that empty’s into Mountain View Cemetery (“MVC”) 3 reservoirs. For the Blair Park side of the Project, PRFO’s plan shows three underground cisterns, capable of holding 23,500 cu. ft. of water. PRFO Architect Clarence Mamuyac has stated that in order to meet the C-3 requirements, all Blair Park water will be collected-filtered and dispensed on site.  Mr. Mamuyac has described it as his “Double Whammy” (“DW”) method to meet the C-3 guidelines:  that the massive amounts of stored-up winter waters will be used for:  1) Blair Park irrigation needs, and 2) excess cistern water could be sold to MVC for their irrigation needs.

This “Double Whammy” dream design is fundamentally flawed with errors.  The plan is based on there being a huge demand for landscape irrigation water at both saturated Blair Park and MVC in the wet winter months.  Carlile-Macy Civil Engineer Mark Hale stated on June 15, 2010: “There should be much less irrigation during the cooler months that have higher precipitation“. Mr. Hale also said on Sep 19, 2008: ” synthetic fields generate as much runoff as a paved parking lot.”  Expensive Carlile-Macy hydrology reports is not needed to demonstrate to any reasonable person that there are excess amounts of water in winter.  Further, the DW design does not address cistern over-capacity, blockage or power pump failures, which will cause uncontrolled overflow onto Moraga Avenue.  During heavy downpours or system failures, cistern vaults will overflow and cascade into the existing Cemetery Creek culvert pipe, under Coaches Field and into MVC holding ponds.  Every time untreated waters overflows into the Cemetery Creek watershed system, the RWQCB will cite Piedmont with a NPDES permit violation.  RWQCB fines are $10,000 per day and $10 per gallon for unintentional violations, and $25,000 per day and $25 per gallon for intentional or negligent violations.  This is an open-ended taxpayer expense (EPA fines) in perpetuity.

Using the same method to satisfy C-3 requirements as above, the Coaches Field specifies a 9500 cu. ft. cistern for storage and excess storm water management.  However, Coaches Field design admits it cannot meet the C-3 requirements to match pre-construction water flow rates.  PRFO plans on the enlargement of Mountain View Cemetery’s #3 reservoir.

B. Ponds and widen pond #3 18′ existing water spillway gate.   Coaches Field cannot meet the pre-construction storm water flow rates, they will be sending larger quantities of drain water (and faster) over the dam (wider) spillways, into the Glen Echo Creek culvert  pipes to Lake Merritt.  Heavy winter downpour and overflow of cisterns will most likely occur simultaneously at Blair Park & Coaches Field, resulting in massive volumes of water overrunning and stressing MVC’s reservoirs.  Uncontrolled-faster running storm waters could have a devastating impact on the fragile embankments and earthen dams of MVC three holding ponds.

1. Flooding

LSA DEIR report is flawed and negligent, on page 218 under Flooding the DEIR says, “no known flooding has occurred in the drainage areas beyond the Mountain View Cemetery due to inadequate capacity of the drainage facilities”. Glen Echo Creek travels from MVC to Lake Merritt and has a well documented history of flooding events.

Oakland’s whole storm water infrastructure pipe culverts have a long history of deficiency problems. Oakland’s “Great Columbus Day Flood” on Oct 14, 1962 caused deaths and millions of dollars of property damage along Glen Echo Creek and downtown Oakland. Oakland Assistant City Manager John Morin said in the Oakland Tribune on Oct 15, 1962: ” . . . drains were simply not big enough to handle the unprecedented amount of rain water“. Oakland Tribune also states that Moraga Avenue was blocked and closed due to the storm. It had rained 9.4 inches in 24 hours-13.5 inches in 48 hours. Turning to the Lake Merritt Institute August 2005 newsletter,  on Sept. 19, 2004 it rained so hard in Oakland that Glen Echo Creek overran its barriers at Grand & Harrison Avenues, leaving 5000 lbs of debris in its wake.

LSA DEIR states that the culvert pipes at the Mountain View Cemetery water reservoirs are 5’X 5′ but by the time the pipes reach Glen Eden Avenue (Glen Echo Creek), they are 3′ X 3′.  Because of the two thirds reduction in flow capacity, a severe “bottleneck” is created.
The Rockridge quarry reservoir also relies on and feeds its excess waters into Glen Echo Creek at Glen Echo Avenue. The LSA report fails to address critical-downstream water impacts and culvert pipe reduction size factors.

The sports field projects proposes to enlarge MVC 3 detention ponds and widen the 18′ spillway gates at reservoir # 3 dam, thus expanding the quantity of water-going downstream, and entering into Oakland’s existing deficient Glen Echo Creek culvert system.

2. KEY: Failure of Levee or Dam

The proposed project has significant hydrology concerns that must be addressed.

  • Substantially alter the existing drainage pattern and volume (faster flow) into theLower Cemetery Creek, and into MVC three detention ponds in a manner which would result in flooding and embankment erosion issues.
  • Will create or contribute runoff water which will exceed the capacity of the existing culvert drainage system between MVC, Glen Echo Creek and Lake Merritt.
  • Flooding at MVC detention ponds could cause the (deficient) earthen Dams to either breach their banks or cause “seepage” failures at their bases.

The lowest and largest reservoir (100 year old) has a long history of “seepage” failures.

Questions :
Why was MVC 3 earthen dams not addressed in the EIR by LSA?
When was the latest (MVC) Civil Engineer inspection/report on the 3 earthen dams?
Has the Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) been notified & consulted with?

The LSA report at page 224-item 4 provides incomplete information. The report only refers to water storage structure threats and potential failures that are upstream from the proposed development project but ignores the threats downstream. PRFO, ELS, LSA-DEIR report boasts several times their responsible Best Management Practice (BMP) water plans on using Mountain View Cemetery’s (MVC) three water storage reservoirs to forefill the spirit of BMP & NPDES permit. MVC 3 detention reservoirs are over 100 years old; water is held back and in the “earthen dam” method of dam building.
45 dams have failed in California since 1883……………………..resulting in 460 deaths.

Left out of the PRFO & LSA DEIR narrative is that fact MVC three earthen dams were declared deficient, inadequate and unsafe over 17 years ago in the 1980’s by certified experts. The lowest reservoir # 3 had suffered “textbook” structural seepage failures at its base which leaked into the downstream corporation yard buildings. Experts determined that this reservoir dam # 3 was unsafe and a unequivocal threat to people and structures-below it. Since the 1980’s seepage failure event, reservoir # 3 water level was kept lowered by at least twelve feet.  A new lower-level drainage exit conduit pipe was installed by contractors in the 1980’s to prevent the reservoir # 3 from ever being refilled to its top again.

MVC corporation yard employee structures/buildings were removed and relocated away from the vicinity of the seepage leaks at the base of the earthen dam.

The Public-Private PRFO project proposes to enlarge all three MVC reservoirs storm
water  capacity and widen the reservoir # 3 spillway gates . . . resulting in faster running storm waters into Glen Echo Creek on its way to Lake Merritt.

City Recreation Director Mark Delventhal confirmed the “Dam Failure Threat” at the September 8, 2009 City Council meeting.  He said that the cemetery wants the same pre-coaches field water volume into its ponds.

On 3/02/00 Recreation Director Mark Delventhal says:  “They don’t want a lot more water . . . because of those earthen dams.”

MVC General Manager Jeff Lindeman & their Civil Engineers confirms the “Dam Failure Threat” in a letter to the Piedmont-City Clerk and Director Deleventhal on Nov 13, 2008, “There must be an adequate study and assessment of the impact on the pond’s existing earthen-dams integrity and capacity”.

On page 219 of the EIR-footnote # 175, Benson Lee’s conversation with Mark Delventhal confirms that there is a 1994 contract agreement document between the City of Piedmont and Mountain View Cemetery. The City will not “block” the culvert pipe water flow but will maintain the storm drain water entering into to MVC at a “status quo” level and “not to exceed” the pre – 1994 quantity levels. It states that “to block” or “blockage” means any reduction or increase of water flow by 5 percent. Experts determined that the MVC earthen dams could not exceed the pre-Coaches Field (1994) storm water runoff levels. Piedmont Senior Staff has “repeatedly” ignored the terms and conditions of the City’s 1994 agreement with Mountain View Cemetery to limit the storm water quantity.

The DEIR report page 226 says: “Impact Hydro-3: Increased runoff from a installation of a synthetic field turf at Coaches Field and two new synthetic fields at Blair Park could result in downstream flooding and exceeding the drainage facility capacity”. MVC 3 holding reservoirs have been certified by experts as unsafe to hold unlimited water or endure heavy storm water overflow in large amounts. Piedmont’s BMP and NDPES permit is contingent that MVC & Piedmont will be eternal partners. MVC water holding ponds will play a key relationship as a surrogate to-carry Piedmont’s runoff water…..to the Bay.

3. Best Management Practices-BMP

Piedmont’s City Code Chapter 30 is intended to assure consistency with the requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act. BMP is to minimize impacts of development upon Bay Area water quality.

One of the fundamental principles of BMP is to avoid creation of new impervious surfaces. Ideally, surface runoff waters would be deflected, handled and filtered into porous ground surfaces, into open creeks or to divert the use of the water into storage reclamation for future landscape irrigation tasks. This proposal transfers 185,000 sq. ft. of ground surfaces to impervious surfaces. The LSA EIR report is deceptive, as Mountain View Cemetery only recycles a small percentage of reclaimed water from its reservoirs for landscape irrigation. MVC demand for or need of landscape irrigation waters from Piedmont BMP is zero. For 100 years MVC has received all the “free” water it could ever use, store or desire from the existing Cemetery Creek Watershed culvert pipe. The MVC reservoirs and particularly # 3-no longer can handle high capacity storage. They act primarily as just a pass-thru water artery for the Cemetery Creek Watershed….to Glen Echo Creek…to Lake Merritt.

LSA reports as a mitigation solution to the large volume of water runoff from the
sites that wet vaults or cisterns be used to collect-treat-meter out the water in a manner that meets the C-3 requirements. Wet vaults or cisterns are not the optimal BMP practice. Many municipality’s and agencies who have used this method have now categorically discouraged this practice:

  • City of Milpitas website, C-3 Storm water Guidebook states: “Underground wet vaults, settlement devices, deflection separators are strongly discouraged”.
  • California Department of Health Services says in June 2002 BMP handbook: “Vaults, pumps and sumps are discouraged because they reduce reliability, increase maintenance, and create potential vector problems”.
  • Contra Costa County Official’s web site states from their Sep 5, 2006 Clean Water Program Draft that wet vaults: ” Pumped systems are expensive, require more maintenance, are prone to untimely failures and overflow spills, and cause vector control problems, besides having corrective maintenance in perpetuity“.

City Administrator Geoffery Grote and PRFO are proposing that Piedmont taxpayers will be forever saddled with a complex, expensive and vector prone hydrology system. Piedmont will have a contractual burden/liability of maintaining, what is basically a risky (35,500 cu. ft) 4-zone cistern water treatment plant, 3 (100 year old) earthen dam reservoirs-all under the watchful eye, rules and fines of the EPA-RWQCB.

Neil Teixeira

(This letter expresses the personal opinions of the author. All statements made are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.)

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