Friday, June 24, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Amber Blake’s plan for the perfect Father’s Day was scuttled by a most unlikely culprit — the knee-weakening stench wafting from the Sloan Channel into her backyard.
Two weeks ago, the North Las Vegas Water Reclamation Facility, a sewage treatment plant, began discharging treated wastewater into the channel, which empties into Las Vegas Wash and flows into Lake Mead, the source of 90 percent of the valley’s drinking water.
When the discharge began, Blake said the water appeared clear. Then she noticed the water had the greens and yellows of an oozing wound mixed in. The smell, which Blake says is worse in the early morning and at night, came with it.
“My kids are so grossed out,” she said. “They can see it when they jump on the trampoline (and look over the backyard wall). My oldest daughter told me ‘it looks like someone went to the bathroom in there.’ ”
On Father’s Day, the children couldn’t spend more than a few minutes in the backyard before they retreated into the house.
Even the guest of honor, Blake’s dad, a plumber accustomed to the odors that come with his job, was stultified by the stink.
“Smells like a sewer line busted,” said Cliff Chapman. “It was overwhelming.” The smell is powerful enough to reach his house, about 20 houses south of his daughter’s.
Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, whose district includes that area, said his office has received emails and phone calls about the smell.
Clark County is in the middle of a legal tussle with North Las Vegas over whether the city has the right to dump wastewater into the channel, so Collins isn’t exactly a North Las Vegas defender. But he said the smell might be the result of engineers trying to get the plant up to speed.
He was told during a meeting with plant managers awhile back that tweaking the system could take 30 to 40 days.
“They’re experimenting and going to be practicing as they bring it up to full operation,” Collins said.
But North Las Vegas officials are scratching their heads over the complaints. Plant Administrator Dave Commons said the facility is slowly increasing the amount of wastewater treated from 2 million gallons a day to 25 million gallons. Had the plant tried on the first day to treat 25 million gallons, the discharge would likely smell because the plant wasn’t up to speed, he acknowledged.
But he said he drove the length of the Sloan Channel on Wednesday to the Las Vegas Wash and detected no odor.
He added that he has so far received no complaints — Chapman said his wife, Nancy, emailed a complaint to Commons after Father’s Day.
The smell that city officials can’t detect, but that Amanda Blake and her father can’t stand, only highlights the North Las Vegas versus Clark County battle begun in federal court. At issue is North Las Vegas’ belief that it has the right to dump treated wastewater into Sloan Channel without the approval of Clark County, which maintains the channel.
North Las Vegas had not always intended to use the channel. But when the city appeared to tire of negotiating with the county, it decided June 9 to begin discharging treated wastewater into the channel. The city’s goal is to free itself of paying to use the Las Vegas treatment plant, which North Las Vegas claims charges $30,000 a day. Why use the Las Vegas facility when it has its own $300 million plant ready to go?
The county said the reason is simple: North Las Vegas has no right to use the Sloan Channel, which is maintained by Clark County.
Immediately after the water began to flow, North Las Vegas filed a federal lawsuit seeking affirmation of its right to use the channel. Clark County filed an injunction to stop the flow a week later. Then the county refiled the injunction in state court after a federal judge wondered if he even had jurisdiction.
Meanwhile the water flows, and Blake isn’t happy. She has a young daughter who has had a respiratory illness since birth. Before June 9, the girl played in the backyard when she wasn’t tied to a breathing machine. Now the smell is so bad, “it prevents her from going out and playing.”
“They’re breaking the law and their damaging my children’s health,” Blake said.
Collins sees it as just the way North Las Vegas does business with its neighbors.
“The city hasn’t had a good reputation in a long time,” he said. “This just makes it worse.”