Processing Magazine

Watchdog files complaint over Californian wastewater treatment plant violations

March 19, 2013

Several months ago, Northern California River Watch filed a complaint to the U.S. District Court, accusing the city of American Canyon, Calif,. of violating the federal Clean Water Act. Ever since, the city has been trying to reach a settlement with Northern California River Watch, a nonprofit waterway watchdog, according to the American Canyon Eagle.

The complaint, submitted on Aug. 31, 2012, claimed that the city's wastewater treatment plant had been breaching a number of rules, including pollution regulation, misreporting sewage overflows and underestimating leaks of untreated sewage. The city denied all allegations, stating that it disagreed with the "factual assertions" listed in the document, city attorney William Ross said.

The wastewater treatment plant on Mezzetta Way has been working for more than a decade, but since its opening in 2002 operators have found it hard to comply with discharge regulations. In October 2012 the city announced that for the first time there had been a 12-month period without any breaches of regulation since the launch of the facility.

Last August, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board imposed a $6,000 fine on the facility for eight different breaches that were detected between September 2003 and August 2007. Moreover, the city of American Canyon received a notice of violation from the control board in July 2010 because it did not submit the required annual overflow reports in 2008 and 2009. According to the city's public works director Michael Throne, the violations were not serious and there has never been any real threat to public health or the environment.

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State Water Resources Control Board spokesman Timothy Moran noted that the state and the regional water control boards were not involved in the complaint. The regional board did not have any current records of violations at the city's wastewater treatment plant and is not in any way related to the complaint filed to U.S. District Court, commented spokeswoman Lila Tang.

According to the American Canyon Eagle, pollution problems in the city are not only linked to the wastewater treatment facility. Two years ago, an ex-manager of Coca-Cola subsidiary AmCan beverages was sentenced to four months in federal prison and community service for manipulating test samples of the company's discharge between 2004 and 2007. The city received a reimbursement of more than $7 million from Coca-Cola due to the violations.

The Northern California River Watch reached settlements in similar suits with the cities of Benicia, Antioch and Cupertino among others in 2012. As a result, Benicia will have to install closed-circuit cameras in specific sewer lines, improve its procedures in reporting spills and pay $45,000 to Northern California River Watch. As part of the agreement, the city will also have to create a program for private sewer line inspection. Benicia city attorney Heather McLaughlin told the American Canyon Eagle that she "did not recall" the financial terms of the settlement. Settlements reached with the other two cities each specified fees of $30,000 to be paid to River Watch.