Organic excess in water treatment plant has Ontario holding its nose

Ontario wastewater treatment plant includes a lagoon system. (Enterprise file photo)

ONTARIO – An excessive influx of organic matter into the Ontario wastewater treatment system has resulted in offensive odors permeating the city air.

Dan Lopez, an Ontario resident and co-owner of Treasure Valley Steel, said he can smell a foul odor at his home northwest of town, especially when the windows are open. He said he stench is worse when the weather is warm and windy.

“When the wind blows up the hill, it smells so bad. It makes my eyes water,” Lopez said. “I’ve been around dairies that don’t smell nearly as bad as this.”

Lopez said the odor is also noticeable at his shop, which lies just east of the lagoon system. 

“We could smell it at the shop. Sometimes the wind blows it in, and we’ve had to close all our doors because it was so bad,” Lopez said.

Ontario Councilmember Dan Capron said the odor has been very noticeable in the western part of town, where he lives.

“It’s a horrible smell. It’s just rancid, like if you were to put 2,000 hot porta-potties in your garage,” Capron said. “When the air starts to settle and it’s real hot, it’s bad.”

Other residents complained, prompting the city to send out a press release Friday morning, according to Cliff Leeper, Ontario public works director.

The release said the odors are a nuisance, but not dangerous.

“This situation does not pose any danger to the system or to any persons; however, we apologize for the unpleasant odor and hope that you will bear with us as the natural process occurs to reduce the odor,” according to the press release.

Leeper, who oversees the city’s treatment plant and sewers, said the bad smells wafting outside the plant’s lagoon system were caused by an upset in the balance of the biological system’s digesters. Bacteria break down solid waste in the digesters.

“We just had a biological overload. We had materials that didn’t sit well with the system,” Leeper said. “We got more food and material coming into the plant that it cannot handle. And because we have a biological system, it just got overwhelmed.”

Leeper said this is the first time the city has seen a system overload to this extent. He added that his staff has been working on “bringing the system back to equilibrium” over the last two and a half weeks.

“We’ve been trying to do the best we can. We’re having to slowly aerate the system and bring it back,” he said. “We’ve added some extra treatment processes. As to what’s coming into the system, we don’t have any control over that,” Leeper said. “We want to make sure that people don’t put out stuff that shouldn’t go down into the system… It’s like if you eat something bad, that would cause your stomach system to get upset.”

Leeper said wastewater treatment plant workers would continue to investigate the cause.

Residents agree that the city air has improved.

“It’s getting better,” Capron said. “They had a bacteria die-off, so you just have to get bacteria to grow.” Capron said city officials think that the smell will improve in three to four weeks.

Have a news tip? Reporter Kristine de Leon: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

For the latest news, follow the Enterprise on Facebook and Twitter.

TRY A FREE SAMPLE – You can see for yourself the kind of local news reporting produced by the Malheur Enterprise with a news team focused exclusively on news that’s important to you. You can read us for free for 30 days. Signing up is easy and then you have 24/7 access to our reports. Sign up HERE. Or you can support some of the nation’s best journalism by subscribing to our digital news service for $5 a month, easy and automatic. Subscribe HERE.