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How Long Will Wastewater Keep Killing the Smelt?

No matter how many smelt are killed by this wastewater, the only consequences being paid for dead smelt are being paid by Central Valley farmers.

Apr 04, 2013

In December of 2010 the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board voted unanimously to require Sacramento to clean up their sewage discharges to the highest standards by removing the ammonia and other pollutants before discharging their sewage water into the Delta. Families Protecting the Valley, along with others, had pointed out through a marketing campaign how we felt the ammonia was killing multiple lifeforms in the Delta including the endangered smelt. No matter how many smelt are killed by this wastewater, the only consequences being paid for dead smelt are being paid by Central Valley farmers.

It was good news that Sacramento was ordered to clean up their mess. That was 28 months ago. Nothing has been done to clean things up yet. Sacramento has appealed and appealed and court appearances will continue this year with no end in sight. So, while Sacramento fiddles, the Valley burns. Below is a history of the wastewater decision and where it all stands now. They will still be in court when water allocations are announced next year. The smelt will keep dying and farmers will keep getting the blame.


2010 Discharge Permit

In December 2010, the Central Valley Water Board issued a new discharge permit for SRCSD. The discharge permit contained very strict requirements resulting in the need for significant new treatment processes at the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. In adopting the discharge permit, the Central Valley Water Board required the Sacramento region to move to a highly advanced, or "tertiary," treatment process. Citing possible effects on the Delta ecosystem from ammonia contained in the discharge and concerns over public health regarding pathogens, the 2010 discharge permit was one of the most restrictive wastewater treatment permits ever issued in the State of California.

Permit Appealed & Upheld by State Board
Concerned about the rationale behind some of the requirements in the new discharge permit and the substantial costs to ratepayers, in January 2011 SRCSD filed an appeal to the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) requesting it review the Central Valley Water Board's decision on the discharge permit. The State Board agreed to review the decision; however, in September 2011 it announced a decision to review the appeal "on its own motion," an action that had no specific timeframe for review and decision. In the meantime, SRCSD was held to the treatment requirements outlined in the discharge permit as adopted by the Central Valley Water Board and immediately began the activities required to implement the discharge permit.
In May 2012, SRCSD received a Draft Order from the State Water Board, essentially denying most of the permit appeal and remanding some issues back to the Central Valley Water Board for further review. A workshop on the draft order was held by the State Board on July 18, 2012.


Lawsuit Filed

In December 2011, SRCSD filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court seeking resolution on the matter and trying to expedite a decision. At that time, the interested parties agreed to a "stay" on some of the requirements in order to give the State Board more time to issue its draft order. Now that the State Board has issued its final order on the discharge permit, and SRCSD's regulatory appeals process has concluded, the litigation process has reinitiated.
On Friday, December 14, the assigned Superior Court Judge agreed to a scheduling order on the discharge permit litigation. The scheduling order was agreed upon by the Central Valley Water Board, the State Water Board, the State Water Contractors, and SRCSD. As a result of this order, a hearing has been set for October 18, 2013 to review the merits of our case.

Next Steps

SRCSD continues to conduct all efforts required to remain in compliance with its discharge permit and Time Schedule Order. SRCSD takes seriously its responsibility to protect the environment. However, we also have a fiduciary responsibility to our ratepayers. Ultimately, our goal is that regulatory decisions be necessary, reasonable and based on sound and compelling science, as the Clean Water Act and California Water Code dictate.

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