Discharge settlement in works

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The Tuolumne Utilities District and an environmental group are discussing a possible settlement in a lawsuit over district sewage treatment operations, according to representatives from both sides.

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance sued TUD in June over allegations of illegal sewage spills and high pollutant levels in the district's recycled water. The lawsuit was filed in federal court, accusing the district of violating the federal Clean Water Act.

According to court documents and Cal SPA Executive Director Bill Jennings, the two parties have been working on a possible agreement. The district Board of Directors has also met multiple times in closed session to discuss the case, according to past board meeting agendas.

Jennings described the talks on Wednesday as "amicable," though he didn't give any further details.

On Tuesday, TUD General Manager Pete Kampa mentioned the legal action as one of the issues the newly-elected Board of Directors will face in the coming terms. In an email to The Union Democrat, Kampa said he also can't discuss settlements but indicated an agreement might be finalized in the next month.

"There has been no wrongdoing on the part of the district," Kampa said Tuesday.

The complaint accuses the district of violating federal environmental rules with more than 130 sewage spills within the system dating back to October 2007. More than 20 of them, the lawsuit claims, reached local waterways.

The lawsuit also accuses the district of failing to live up to rules for pollutants allowed in recycled water, which is stored in a reservoir and either sold to agricultural customers or discharged into Woods Creek. The complaint claims that the recycled water treated at the TUD sewage treatment plant in Sonora contains higher levels of copper and biological oxygen than allowed by law.

Cal SPA sent letters to state and federal agencies, the lawsuit states. The legal paperwork alleges that "neither the EPA nor the state of California has commenced or is diligently prosecuting an action."

The lawsuit seeks $32,500 per violation committed before Jan. 19, 2009, and $37,500 for those after that date, as well as legal fees.

The Berkeley-based environmental group focuses its efforts largely on protecting the state's fisheries. The organization sued El Dorado Irrigation District in 2009 over similar allegations. The two parties later settled for $240,000 and other payments.

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The Union Democrat
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