Union Democrat staff

Groveland Community Services District could end up paying $375,000 for inadequate reporting of and response to sewage spills in 2010 and 2011.

The district and water board have reached terms of a settlement that will cost GCSD significantly less than the almost $1 million in fines it could have faced over the incidents, according to officials with the California Regional Water Quality Control Board's Central Valley Region.

Under the settlement proposal, the district's civil liability for the 2010 and 2011 spills would total $375,000, which will be split into a$187,500 fine and an equal amount of spending for improvements to GCSD's wastewater treatment system.

The regional water board and GCSD had been negotiating a settlement since 2011 over large sewage spills that took place in the district's system in August 2010 and March 2011.

State water board officials subsequently accused the district of failing to properly report the spills and their sizes, which were eventually determined to be up to 59,000 and 96,000 gallons in raw sewage, respectively. According to violation notices, district officials initially reported the spills, which reached local waterways, including Pine Mountain Lake, as 50 and 1,000 gallons.

The state also accused the district of failing to properly maintain the sewer system, keep records, and train employees on spill procedures.

The district could have been fined up to $824,930 for its violations.

Lonnie Wass, a staff member with the regional water board working on the settlement, said it's not yet a done deal. The water board will accept public comments for 30 days on the settlement, and if there are no major objections, executive staff will likely sign off on the agreement.

The GCSD Board of Directors will also discuss the settlement proposal at its monthly meeting Thursday, according to the board meeting agenda. Jon Sterling, interim general manager at the Groveland district, said the district board voted after a special, closed-session meeting last week to accept the terms of the settlement.

If the state agency accepts the settlement as-is, Sterling said GCSD "will move forward in complying with the details of the settlement as it's listed."

"We very much are looking forward to being able to move forward," he said of the issue.

Wass said it isn't atypical for settlement talks to last as long as they did in this case. While the settlement states the agreement is not an admission of guilt, the past spills would be considered if any future violations are found.

Under the settlement agreement, the district would be allowed to pay off the $187,500 in $46,875 installments. The second $187,500 is required to go towards mandatory improvements to the sewer system that will prevent future spills.

GCSD serves water and sewer customers in the communities of Groveland, Pine Mountain Lake and Big Oak Flat.