On 29 December 2010, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) gave formal notice, pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), of its intent to sue the City of Sacramento, Sacramento Area Sewer District and Sacramento County (Sacramento) for illegal sewage spills, overflows and discharges to various waterways that drain into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Since December 2005, the Sacramento County/Sacramento Area Sewer District collection system has experienced at least 6,119 raw sewage spills or 28.05 spills per 100 miles of sewer pipes per year. During the same period, the City of Sacramento collection system had at least 364 sewage spills, or 12.5 spills per 100 miles of sewer pipe per year. A well-run collection system experiences 0 to 3 spills per 100 miles per year and California’s median spill rate is about 4 spills per 100 miles.
The sewage collection systems serve a population of more that 1.3 million people and collect and convey sewage from within Sacramento County and the cities of Sacramento, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, and Citrus Heights to the sewage collection system owned and operated by the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, where it is subsequently delivered to the Sacramento Regional County Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Sewage spills and overflows are serious public health and environmental hazards. They evidence a failure to provide adequate facilities and acceptable levels of maintenance, reflect poor environmental management, indicate an outrageous disregard for the health of Sacramento area residents and pose a clear threat to the integrity and survival of the Delta’s fish and wildlife resources.
Because local business and industry discharge into the sewage system, sewage can contain numerous dangerous chemical solvents, heavy metals like lead and mercury and wastes that can cause toxicity and impair immune and reproductive systems of fish and wildlife. Pathogens in untreated sewage can cause a multitude of illnesses in humans. Sacramento residents may be exposed to these pathogens when swimming, waterskiing, wading, fishing or boating in local waterways and the Delta, as well as when sewage spills into homes, streets, parks, schools and businesses.
Waterways in and around Sacramento and the Delta are identified as “impaired” under the CWA and are among the most polluted waters in the state. Numerous fish species that reside in the Delta or use the Delta as a migratory corridor are protected under state and federal endangered species acts. Pollution has been identified as one of the three principle causes of the present catastrophic crash of pelagic species in the Delta and declining salmonid populations in the Central Valley.
The CWA requires that citizens enforcing the Act must provide a discharger 60 days notice prior to filing the lawsuit. The CSPA letters put Sacramento on notice that its municipal sanitary sewer collection and treatment systems have illegally allowed egregious quantities of raw sewage to overflow into city streets and storm water collection systems.
CSPA will seek injunctive and declaratory relief, to the extent provide by law, as well as civil penalties. The CWA provides for civil penalties of up to $32,500 per day for each violation occurring before 12 January 2009 and up to $37,500 per day for each violation occurring after that date.
Layne Friedrich and Drevet Hunt of Lawyers for Clean Water, Inc., and Michael Lozeau of Lozeau/Drury LLP are representing CSPA in this matter. Sacramento NOI, Sacramento County NOI