Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Groveland Community Services District board members said Thursday they will attempt to avoid rate hikes to pay for $375,000 in fines and work required under a state legal settlement over sewage spills in 2010 and 2011.

"We're not considering raising rates at this moment," said board President Steve Perreira, responding to concerns over the issue raised during the board's regular meeting.

The settlement with the California Regional Water Quality Control Board's Central Valley Region requires the district to pay a $187,500 fine, broken into four equalinstallments over two years, to a spill cleanup fund administered by the state.

The district also agreed to spend $187,500 for repairs and upgrades to the district sewage-treatment system. The money, officials said, will come from reserves and will be paid back over time.

Jon Sterling, the interim district general manager, said GCSD is looking at purchasing and installing a centrifuge unit for the biosolids produced, known as sludge, at the plant. While it is not related to spills, the unit helps process the sludge, which was one of the problems cited by the water board with the overall system.

The district has five years to pay for and install any plant improvements under the settlement.

"It will actually help us to stay in compliance within our waste water discharge permit," Sterling said.

The regional water board and GCSD had been negotiating a settlement since 2011 over large sewage spills in August 2010 and March 2011.

State water board officials 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. 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 and manage the sewer system, keep records, and train employees on spill procedures.

The district could have been fined up to $824,930 for its violations. And while the district is only paying $375,000 directly for the settlement, Sterling estimates the district has spent over $188,000 on legal fees, engineering costs and other expenses.

Perreira said the GCSD board will release a final report in September or October that details the total amount the spills and violations cost the district, warning the public that it will be a "gi-normous" amount.