Authorities located 46 five-gallon buckets and a 55-gallon drum of what appears to be motor oil upturned and flowing into a stormwater drain north of the Vista del Lago Way and Highway 26 intersection in Valley Springs Wednesday morning.

At the site of the illegal dump, off Vista del Lago Way and Woodgate Rd, a river of dark oil-like liquid running down the asphalt toward a drain on the corner was dammed up with absorbent mat rolls and gravel around noon Wednesday.

Across the street, a murky, viscous pool was visible in the stormwater catch basin.

“There’s crawdads, there’s animal life in here – they’re all gonna die,” said Calaveras Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rich Dickinson, standing in the catch basin. “The frogs, whatever’s out here.”

Dickinson spotted the cans and drum overturned and spilling out near an oil-stained tarp in the middle of the street earlier this morning. He said a witness said they heard a loud noise in the area around 2 a.m., as if someone had hauled them in on a flatbed truck and peeled out for a quick getaway.

About 150 gallons were spilled, Dickinson estimated.

“It’s a HAZMAT cleanup that has to be taken care of,” Dickinson said. “Obviously we don’t have storm runoff and luckily it’s in that catch basin, but it’s going to affect animal life. Any little critters that get in there, they’re gonna get it on them. It’s going to percolate down into the soil. Where it goes from there, we don’t know …"

He said he’s never seen an illegal dump of this magnitude during his time in Calaveras County.

Additional agencies that have been in contact are the County Environmental Management Agency and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the latter of whom will be conducting the investigation into who was responsible.

Patriot Environmental Services, Inc., an environmental services provider, has been contracted to do the clean-up, the costs of which Calaveras County Office of Emergency Services Director John Osbourn estimated to be in the multiple thousands of dollars.

A hazardous materials crew will first categorize what the fluid is, clean it up, and rehabilitate the drain system by removing as much of the product as they can from the drain.

The county will front the bill, and will hope to recoup costs if a suspect is identified.

Osbourn said that although COVID-19 may have made it more difficult for auto shops to find open sites taking petroleum products, illegal dumping is not the solution.

“It’s important that people dispose of their used oil appropriately,” Osbourn said. “I realize that has become more cumbersome during COVID, because a lot of the reception sites that would normally take petroleum products may not be open. But this is not a sound alternative. Not only does it tie up our resources that have been engaged in active fire fights for eight or nine days straight now. It’s environmentally unsound, and it’s just plain wrong.”

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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