Garberville H2O: Contact Chamber, Phillipsville & $50Gs

Garberville Sanitary District water treatment facility

Garberville Sanitary District water treatment facility [Photo by Kelley Lincoln]

The Garberville Sanitary District (GSD) moved to obtain a free above-ground contact chamber as a replacement for the broken subterranean one; chose to serve the Phillipsville Community Services District with GSD staff, and learned it is $50,000 ahead of projections in its mid-year budget review at the Board of Directors Meeting, on Tuesday the 27th of February.

Contact Chamber

The Board approved a proposal to meet General Manager Ralph Emerson’s stated goal of replacing the damaged underground contact chamber with one that sits above ground. Emerson explained the need for the change in design by saying, “With our contact chamber underground, we weren’t able to drain it. We had a couple of instances where we didn’t have enough chlorine in the water and we had to pump it out; we weren’t able to just drain that contact chamber out.”

Engineering consultant Andy Sundquist of Candor Rock, LLP explained the “baffled” contact chamber, manufactured by Highland Tank and Manufacturing Company, has not yet been approved for use in California, “They claim it has been approved for use everywhere on the east coast,” he said. “They do not have a tracer study though. They claim it’s really expensive to perform. So they have the approvals they need on the east coast, but California is telling them they won’t accept it without a tracer study.”

He continued, “We [proposed] the idea of paying the shipping costs and materials to get the tank here, get it installed, California does the tracer study and we see the results there. So there is the risk there, but…”

The deal being proposed is for the District to pay the shipping and installation costs, for the Highland company to give the District the contact chamber saving GSD $6,000.00, while California will pay for the tracer test that is needed. Emerson gave more details,

It benefits them to get us the tank here at no cost or minimal cost because if its approved, and we are confident it will be, then they would be able to sell here, which is huge for them because [California] is the largest market in the United States.

Emerson explained the DDW’s position for requiring the tracer test. He stated,

“The state doesn’t understand; the state is looking at this like its a regular tank like you see all over the hills. They are looking at it like [the water] is going to pass through and there will be pockets that won’t be chlorinated. But when you baffle it, the water comes in, hits a wall, goes up and over the wall, then there’s another wall: It’s mixing like [it] would in serpentine pipes. So that’s going to mix the water, but they’re not factoring that in. They are looking at it like it’s a regular tank.”

In a phone interview a few days later, Ronnean Lund, Sanitary Engineer with the Division of Drinking Water at the State Water Resources Control Board, explained that contact chamber designs vary, and that the water treatment industry prefers long tubes over baffled tanks because tubes eliminate the potential for the water to take a shortcut to the exit. In other words, long tubes better guarantee the disinfection goal is met, according to Lund. She explained that the tracer test must be conducted to assess the efficacy of this manufacturer’s design.

Jenny Short, Special Projects Manager, defined the installation costs of the project as it is proposed, “I just want to make sure the Board understands there is another $120,000.00 we are fairly certain we are going to pay on top of [shipping costs] plus a potential contingency.” This money prepares the site by removing the existing chamber, installing an engineered pad and anchoring infrastructure, as well getting the plumbing in place.

Emerson responded saying, “The original contact chamber was $250,000.00 and that is what the insurance company is aware of. They are aware also of the numbers Andy [Sundquist] has just stated, so that’s what the insurance company is looking at for reimbursement.” However, Emerson also noted the insurance company has not yet written a formal settlement offer.

The Board approved moving forward with the project if the Highland Company accepts the proposal to provide GSD the tank for the cost of shipping.


In the spirit of mutual aid with neighboring districts, Emerson proposed the Board contract for Phillipsville Community Services District (PCSD) to use GSD staff a few hours a week. Phillipsville CSD is without a licensed Water Operator at this time.

As background to the proposal, Emerson admitted to his Board that he had been letting the Phillipsville CSD use his license until Emerson received a call from the California Division of Drinking Water (DDW) notifying Emerson that his license was jeopardy due to that decision.

Ralph Emerson said,

“I was asked if they could use my license just to keep them legal with their reporting. I said ‘sure, go ahead.’ I didn’t charge them for that, but I let them have the license [number] to do that. I wasn’t doing anything up there; they just had the license. Then I got a call from Ronnean [Lund] at the State Water Board telling me ‘did I know about a coliform and e coli hit.’ I told them ‘no, I didn’t.’ I then requested my license to be pulled [away from use by the PCSD] because I was told specifically there was a chance I would lose my license if I wasn’t involved with the sampling and I don’t have the time to be up there doing the sampling, so that is what my request was.


And then the conversation came [up] about having one of our employees, who lives close by and they have been friends for many years… to be able to utilize him to be their contract Operator.”

Emerson proposed the work by GSD staff for Phillipsville CSD be done outside of GSD business hours, but that Phillipsville CSD contract his employment through GSD.

The GSD Board approved a motion to administer a contract for licensed Operator services to the Phillipsville CSD which is so small it cannot afford to hire a licensed Operator. GSD will have its costs in overtime, workers compensation, and other matters covered in the contract fee to be determined.

While speaking with Lund about the contact chamber, I also asked for comment on the contract with the Phillipsville CSD. Lund said districts are free to make arrangements to work together. Her regional supervisor, Richard Hinricks, Northern California Section Chief was also on the line. He agreed, but he added,

“For an Operator to let a District use his license without being there to supervise the work is like you letting someone use your driver license without you there to do the driving.” And he said, “There are consequences for Operators if we find them doing that.”

Mid-year budget surplus

Jenny Short, who coordinates special projects on a contractor basis, gave the GSD Board a mid-year budget review. Short said the news was so good, she had to check and re-check her calculations “because it’s good news, and I was shocked at how good the good news is.”

Short says GSD budget expenditures are even with predictions for the year, some of which is good luck, “This year Ralph [Emerson] didn’t buy some of the assets at the beginning of the year, so we had [funds] to work with when things started going south. We could just go ‘we’re not going to buy this, this, and this. We are just going to postpone [those purchases.]’”

But Short said the highlights lie on the income side,

“A lot of it is in our water revenue. We are currently at a $50,000.00 net positive in our cash flow with our water revenue. In part, because we are doing bulk water sales, and in part because the water sales themselves, to the meters, are higher than we had projected. I think people are not conserving water because we are no longer under a drought, and so our revenues are a little bit higher than they were last year. We are also seeing some increases in late charges. We have a re-connection fee now, and so that’s adding up. Amongst these ‘other revenue’ things, we have about a $9,000.00 net positive [contribution to the $50,000 net positive cash flow.]”

Short also noted that within five years, the District will have paid off all but one of its loans which will free up revenue to spend on capital improvements.

The Garberville Sanitary District meets the fourth Tuesday of each month. The five member Board has a vacant seat. One must live in the District to be considered for the Board without a special appointment by the County Board of Supervisors. Currently, two of the four Board Members are appointed and living outside the District. Applications are available at the District Office.



  • Has GSD ever heard of LAFCo?

    What is LAFCo? Local Agency Formation Commissions, known as LAFCos, were created in each county by the California State Legislature in 1963. LAFCos have regulatory and planning responsibilities to coordinate the timely development of local governmental agencies and their services while protecting agricultural and open-space resources. Most notably, this includes managing local governmental boundary changes by approving or disapproving proposals involving the formation, expansion, or dissolution of cities and special districts.

    What does LAFCo do? LAFCo is responsible for approving proposed jurisdictional boundary changes, including annexations and detachments, incorporation of new cities, formation of new special districts, and the consolidation, merger, and dissolution of existing special districts. LAFCo also conducts studies to help perform its regulatory duties. Specifically, municipal service reviews are prepared to evaluate the level and range of services prior to adopting spheres of influence for each city and special district.

    Did Humboldt LAFCo approve this contract and consolidation/merger between GSD and Phillipsville? And, what did the ratepayers and Board of Phillipsville CSD approve or vote for? GSD is not a stand alone public agency; they are regulated by the County and State.

    See page 50 ~

    It seems Ralph Emerson and his shenanigans followed him from Murphys Sanitary District…

  • Jason Salomon MCSD

    You are truely a bitter man ed, Phillipsville would be shut down and taken over by the state if they couldn’t find a licensed operator, which would spike their rates up to that of Redway or better.These are small districts that are underfunded and under staffed trying to make it work.While you sit there and criticize it looks as though Ralph has found a way to fix the contact for garberville far under projected costs and is turning their finances around.Hes now stepping in to save Phillipsville and that will be a huge headache that he’s willing to deal with that he didn’t have to.If he can do half of what he’s done for Miranda to Phillipsville they will pull through and have him to thank.He put his license there for free to help them, now he’s going to help even more that they can’t do it on their own.
    I am the president of the Miranda Comunity Services District and Ralph has been a godsend for us,he has gone out of his way to find fixes for our septic plant and always has very useful and knowledgeable input for us at the meetings.Ralph is helping these small districts for very little and in some cases no pay.Our septic plant has come miles since he came aboard and his choices have been excellent for us.
    If you got to know Ralph and why he’s doing this you might form a much different opinion of him, he’s Phillipsvilles only hope and I’m betting he does everything he can to fix thier problems.From the MCSD, Thank you Ralph, the world could use a few more people like you

    • Doesn’t MCRD compensate Ralph Emerson for his services at MCSD? If Ralph Emerson is MCSD’s “only hope”, you have taken the bait; hook, line & sinker. According to your statement, Ralph Emerson is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Even if Ralph Emerson found the cure for cancer, I would not buy what he is selling or drink his snake oil. Why don’t you get a reference from the Murphys Sanitary District, find out how much headache and heartache he cost the public. You think this pending litigation with GSD is something new for Emerson?

  • Jason Salomon MCSD

    Yes, Ralph is paid at Miranda,very very little by his own choice,trying to find a licensed operator for a small district is near impossible.He may not have the cure for cancer but he sure can cure the common and uncommon problems for a district, he is not a general manager here all decisions are overseen and voted on by the district board,he doesn’t do anything we don’t want him too.And there was no “bait” we approached him and he has done wonders since he’s been here.If money or full control was his motivation he wouldn’t be helping us.easy to pick a guy apart from the outside , his help on the inside has been unmatched.we weren’t failing by a long ways, just needed an operator for the septic and he has done that and helped with so much more.His willingness to look at all the different possible solutions to problems has saved us tons, just like what he just did for garberville and the tank.If you are so wise why not leave your chair and join a board so you too can be picked apart from the outside

    • Sorry Jason. I am not picking you apart, I’m replying to your comments (don’t know why my comment was taken off). It works both ways, if you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen. The MCSD is a public agency and its Board are public officials, open to public scrutiny. Emerson has a “State” operator’s license, not just in Humboldt County and sure as hell not just for MCSD. Let me ask you; did the MCSD Board vote to hire Emerson?

      BTW, MCSD can obtain grants and low to no cost funding to get professional assistance to make improvements to your system.

      What is “very very little”?

  • As you know it’s all public information, feel free to look it up, and we are constantly looking at grants but not all apply to us for different reasons

    • Great, Thank you. What is the MCSD website address or where do I send my Public Records Act request?

      • Why dont you deal with lake county problems. Thats where you live. [edit] Leave our (not your) community alone. Good by edward.

  • We have an office and 1 office manager, no web sight.You seem like an educated man ed, I don’t know why you waste it on the Internet, you’d be much more effective on the seat of a board where you could use your legal and personal advise and direction in a position that could do something about it, there’s many boards that could use your knowledge

    • Thank you for your opinion, however, you did not answer my question(s). What date did MCSD voted to hire Ralph Emerson? How Much does MCSD compansate Emersons for his services?

  • Ralph was voted in by the board roughly 2 years ago ballpark estimate, our operator worked until he passed away and Ralph agreed to become our septic system operator for 500$ a month, like I said, very very little. We would have paid him more. Try to find an operator in this area, it’s almost impossible. If you do it would cost many times that per month, he has helped our town a lot.
    Now I have a question for you, which board will you be joining?The school system or the Mattel could both use help if you need a suggestion , get on the inside and become part of the solution

    • Thanks. to answer your question, I do not live in Humboldt County.

      Let me ask you; If MCSD paid for the training and licence for an employee of MCSD, would you let them moonlite, or work under the table for another sanitary district?

      Who paid for the training and licence fees Emerson holds? Its funny, when you look up Emerson’s licence(s) (#36423 T1 & 9119 II) they are issued to Emerson for Murphys, Calaveras County and those are the current ones, 2016 & 2020.

      Emerson is paid a schit pile of money by the ratepayers of GSD to manage their system. I guess it’s not enough, so he moonlites for 3 different other districts. How many hours are there in a day? And for $500 a month, how much time does he spend on your system?

      • Jason, also read page 50/51 of this GSD agenda; where Emerson puts together his “Proposal” and “JOINT DISTRICT MANAGEMENT AGREEMENT”. It states $500.00 per month, which = 15 hours per month, which = $33.33 per hour. So yeah, $500.00 per month does sound “very very little”, until you figure the actual hours worked for $500,00 per month.

        And this “Joint Powers Association Proposal” doesn’t even get into who pays payroll tax, vehicle use/ insurance, personal liability, workers’ State comp insurance or medical.

  • “Worked until he passed away”. Wow, maybe shoulda gave the guy a break or two…

  • Jason …be careful about answering questions from ed voice. The guy is toxic and can turn innocent answers into ammo for his personal vendettas.

  • See page 4 of this meeting agenda:

    The property between highway 101 and Redwood Drive (Hippie Hill) is proceeding with a
    renovation of the entire property which will include 15 guest suites, a lobby, conference room,
    sauna and pool. We are working with the owner to provide water and sewer service along with
    associated fees prior to construction.

    No wonder GSD wants to connect to RCSD’s water, private development in progress! Will GSD have any water? How come there’s all this planning outside of public meetings? Did GSD give them a “will serve letter” already?

  • Your wrong about so much of this at this point I don’t know where to start so…. I’m done lol have fun wherever you are 😂

  • Jason; please read the link, its one of many newspaper articles about Ralph Emerson while at the Murphys Sanitary District. If you don’t believe them, why don’t you ask Emerson yourself. Especially the one about “degrading terms against women.”, three different woman that worked with Emerson. I’m sure Tina’s legal team would like to know this…

  • The deal being proposed is for the District to pay the shipping and installation costs, for the Highland company to give the District the contact chamber saving GSD $6,000.00, while California will pay for the tracer test that is needed. Emerson gave more details,

    It benefits them to get us the tank here at no cost or minimal cost because if its approved, and we are confident it will be, then they would be able to sell here, which is huge for them because [California] is the largest market in the United States.

    How many strings are attached to a deal like this? What backroom deal did Emerson get on this “tank” and does he benefit from the deal?

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