The Tuolumne Utilities District Board of Directors agreed on Tuesday to a legal settlement with an environmental organization that includes $340,000 in payments and a list of requirements for monitoring and improving the district’s sewage treatment system.
The agreement with the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance ends a federal lawsuit filed in June over allegations that TUD violated federal water laws with 130 spills or leaks in the sewage system dating back to October 2007.
The monetary portion of the settlement will cover court costs, mitigation payments and monitoring costs, though the organization was seeking up to $550,000 in the lawsuit, according to TUD.
The agreement also requires TUD to adhere to a 10-part plan that includes developing a plan to eliminate possible contamination in Woods Creek, reduce sewage spills and conduct various assessments and improvements in the sewer system.
“We’re already implementing them,” district General Manager Pete Kampa said of many of the terms in the settlement. “We just have to step them up in many cases.”
Kampa said the district maintains it has not committed any wrongdoing. But he also said this is essentially an unwinnable case for the district, and pointed to multiple agencies in the foothills and Central Valley that have reached similar settlements with the group over similar allegations.
“This is one of those laws (where) you don’t win in court,” he said. “There is really not a defense that can be presented.”
CalSPA accused TUD of violating the federal Clean Water Act through the sewer system overflows, and also by having high amounts of contaminants in its “recycled” water. Though federal and state regulators did not cite the district for violations over the alleged spills, private organizations can sue over such incidents, district counsel Jesse Barton said.
The organization has done so in El Dorado County, Sacramento and Stockton.
“There will be more lawsuits coming,” Barton said, referring to other districts.