The Lompoc solid waste landfill (aka “the dump”) is in a canyon. When it rains, stormwater runs downhill from the surrounding hills and into and under the landfill (it’s called gravity) as it has for decades.

As time went on from the original siting of the landfill on the western edge of the city, businesses and homes were constructed downhill on Avalon Street; and there were long-established agricultural operations that were frequently impacted by stormwater flow, too.

On March 7 the City Council approved a $7 million project to improve runoff management.  The project includes $6.2 million for construction, including a contract contingency and for permits and city staff support. Why did they do that after so many decades?

According to a staff report: “On July 6, 2018, the City was issued an NOV (Notice of Violation) from the RWQCB (Regional Water Quality Control Board) on the allegations that the Lompoc Landfill’s existing drainage conveyance structures were not adequately sized to handle the minimum required 100-year, 24-hour storm events after failures of the conveyance structures were observed after the March 2018 storm events.

“A Technical Report was prepared by Geosyntec that was submitted to the RWQCB on Oct. 30, 2018, to meet the requirements of the NOV.”

So, five years ago the city officially found out it had a problem, one that had existed since the landfill was originally sited in the canyon.

And will the proposed improvements provide a long-term fix? According to the staff: “This analysis did not consider the long-term conditions of the Landfill after closure when the existing basin within the Landfill footprint would be removed.”

Doesn’t sound like it. It’s this kind of shortsighted thinking that will eventually cost ratepayers substantially more than the current project.

During recent heavy rains, runoff from the landfill may have damaged several agricultural fields as it had in the past; farmers were understandably concerned that their vegetable fields may have been contaminated by water coming from the landfill.

Their concerns are justified by this notation in the NOV: “The upper sediment basin is also unlined and a portion of it overlies waste. As a result, the basin allows ponding water and infiltration into underlying waste.”

Everyone knows it rains, and they know water runs downhill. It wasn’t until a couple of decades ago that landfill construction required liners to prevent leakage of ground water. 

People also are aware that until a couple of decades ago no one cared what was thrown in the landfill; I am guessing there are tons of what we know today are contaminates buried at the bottom of this site.

For example, so called PFAS “forever chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances)” are found in many common products that are tossed away daily, for example in grease-resistant paper, fast-food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers. So, like many other “toxic substances” we have been eating this stuff all our lives.

The Environmental Protection Agency states: “Current scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes. However, research is still ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure to different PFAS can lead to a variety of health effects.

“Research is also underway to better understand the health effects associated with low levels of exposure to PFAS over long periods of time, especially in children.”

Why should any of this concern the average Joe and Jane? Well, even if you’re not a hardcore environmentalist, you have to agree that we should try to prevent the spread of contamination when we can. And if a project, public or private, impacts your neighbor’s property you should be required to take action to avoid damage.

In this case it is a public project that has existed for many decades and will continue to impact down-canyon properties even after it is no longer in use.

The things we and our grandfather threw away will last forever at the bottom of the landfill. We don’t know what they are, but we do know ground water is flowing through this trash and running downhill.

Who pays for all this? It’s the people who toss their stuff in the trash can and watch as a convoy of trash trucks haul it to the landfill every week.