Redwood City settles sewer suit: Overflows prompt conversation on city’s wastewater plan

June 05, 2017, 05:00 AM
By Anna Schuessler Daily Journal

Strategies for decreasing the number of Redwood City’s sanitary sewer overflows, developing an accurate reporting process and creating a plan for notifying residents when overflows occur are among the objectives   clarified in a settlement agreement reached last month by city officials and the nonprofit California River Watch.

Focused on protecting California waterways, the nonprofit sued the city last year for violating the federal Clean Water Act after publicly available data showed the city experienced an estimated 25 sanitary sewer overflows in a five-year period, resulting in more than 35,000 gallons of sewage reaching surface waters, said David Weinsoff, an independent attorney hired to represent the public interest group.

The nonprofit also collected $30,000 from the city to cover legal fees incurred in reaching the settlement, while the city asserted that its management of its wastewater collection system currently meets all Clean Water Act requirements and that the settlement was not an admission of the claims alleged in the nonprofit’s lawsuit, according to the settlement agreement.

Weinsoff said raising concerns about the size and rate of the overflows prompted months of productive conversations between the nonprofit and the city about how the environment could be protected. Outlining the city’s water quality monitoring program, overflow response plan and water sampling protocol for spills in excess of 10,000 gallons were among the outcomes the nonprofit solidified in the agreement. How to post signs warning pedestrians and vehicles against interacting with contaminated water following a spill and a measure to capture video footage of most of the city’s sewer basins to improve the city’s monitoring of them were also clarified in the document.

“It was, in all regards, the way you would hope that the relationship between a municipality and a public interest group would be,” he said.

City spokeswoman Meghan Horrigan confirmed the city’s policies and procedures were not affected materially by the settlement, and that the city is required to manage sewer activities such as televising sewer pipes, fixing pipes in poor condition and monitoring and responding to overflows, among others.

“All these activities are already being conducted by the city and have been for many years,” she said in an email. “The settlement agreement simply formalizes these activities.”

Weinsoff attributed the productive conversation between the city and the nonprofit he represented to an increased awareness of the how important clean water is, especially since the quality of the San Francisco Bay water has improved in the last few decades.

“Ensuring full compliance with federal, state and local laws that affect our land use and our waterways … is critically important to the lives of our community,” he said. “I believe that governments and public interest groups are working hand in hand to ensure that the failures of the past are not repeated and that good practices are put into place.”