In 2009, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) sued the El Dorado Irrigation District alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act because of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) from the district’s wastewater collection system.
In the past few years we have seen agencies all over the state sued by third-party entities, such as CSPA, using the citizen suit provisions in the act. Standards set under the act call for zero SSOs, which is nearly impossible for any agency to meet.
So if an agency is sued under the act, the agency is almost certain to lose, pay fines, and also be responsible for the plaintiff’s legal fees. Even if the agency’s SSO numbers are low, small in size, and promptly cleaned up — as in the district’s case — the unfortunate best choice is to invariably enter into a settlement agreement with the party bringing the lawsuit.
Consequently in May 2010, the district entered into a settlement agreement with CSPA. Our strategy was to seek an agreement that set out performance standards to reduce SSOs in an achievable timeframe, thus allowing the district to continue to remain in control of our facilities, staff time, ratepayer funds, and maintenance schedules.
The district was successful at negotiating an agreement that satisfied CSPA but also included obtainable performance goals. We were also able to negotiate an early termination clause if we achieved less than five SSOs per 100 miles of pipe in two consecutive years.
The goal for 2010- 2011 called for less than 11 SSOs per 100 miles of pipe. The district, through the evaluation of operational performance, reassignment of staff, and board authorization to purchase an additional hydro-cleaning truck, along with hard-working dedicated employees, was not only able to meet that goal, but exceeded it with only 4.27 SSOs per 100 miles of pipe in 2010.
In 2011, the district achieved an even greater reduction — only 1.96 SSOs per 100 miles of pipe. This significant accomplishment allowed the district to terminate the CSPA agreement three years early, saving the district $6,000 in compliance monitoring fees that would have been paid to CSPA.
And, most importantly, meeting and ultimately terminating the agreement allowed the district to maintain control of operations, maintenance, and the funding of any necessary repairs and/or replacement of portions of our collection system.
The district’s vast collection system covers 77 square-miles and includes 64 lift stations, over 561 miles of pipelines, and 7,300 manholes.
The district is fortunate to have dedicated employees along with an informed and practical board that allows for proactive management and reduces costs for ratepayers now and in the future.