The Vallejo Sanitation District and San Francisco BayKeeper announced today that they have reached a settlement of a three-year old Clean Water Act lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed by BayKeeper in 1996, sought to stop the Vallejo Sanitation District's ongoing discharge of raw sewage and other pollutants from its sanitation system into sensitive marsh areas near the mouth of the Napa River.
"The settlement achieves all of the goals BayKeeper hoped to achieve in filing our enforcement action," said San Francisco BayKeeper Mike Lozeau. "The District has agreed to millions of dollars of improvements to its sanitation system that will prevent any unauthorized sewage overflows in six years." They also have agreed to pay $650,000 towards environmental projects in the Vallejo watershed that will help to keep the Napa River clean.
Through this past rainy season, BayKeeper estimates that the District was discharging an average of 34 million gallons of untreated, raw sewage annually from its system into the lower Napa River. BayKeeper's lawsuit alleged that those discharges, as well as several other pollution discharge and monitoring problems, violated the District's pollution discharge permit issued pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act and California's water quality control laws. In May, 1998, Judge David Levi, of the federal district court in Sacramento, found the District liable for over 2000 violations of its Clean Water Act permit. The permit, issued in 1988, gave the District nine years to bring its raw sewage problem, already well documented at that time, under control. "The Clean Water Act is a strict liability statute," explained Deborah Reames, of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, a lawyer for BayKeeper on the case. "When a discharger fails to take seriously a permit deadline to stop large quantities of raw sewage dumping to our waters, that's when citizen enforcement becomes appropriate."
With the announced settlement, BayKeeper believes the District has charted a new course for its pollution control efforts. "BayKeeper certainly respects the complexity of addressing problems in a large sanitation system like Vallejo's as well as the commitment now demonstrated by the District to assure that its system will become one of the cleanest in the Bay area," said Lozeau. Last year, the District installed long overdue expansions in a portion of its sewer system, which appear to have resulted in fewer overflows last rainy season. "BayKeeper is certain that our agreement with the District will assure continued success in bringing the District's sewage discharges under control."
The settlement announcement comes on the eve of extensive discovery and pretrial proceedings. The trial for the case, now scheduled for October 1999, will be taken off the court's calendar if Judge Levi approves the settlement. "The settlement will not be final until we get the o.k. from the judge," said Reames. Last week, the United States Department of Justice agreed with the terms of the settlement. "This settlement protects the river and Bay and protects the District's ratepayers from the escalating costs of litigation and future noncompliance," said Lozeau.