South County Sanitation District settles sewage spill lawsuit

South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District provides waste water processing for Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano.
South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District provides waste water processing for Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District will pay out more than $1.1 million and conduct three environmental projects under the terms of a settlement reached July 29 in relation to a 2010 sewage spill in Oceano.

Under the terms of the agreement, the district will pay half the amount to the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. The other half will fund the three local environmental projects and plant repairs.

In 2013, the water board filed a civil lawsuit against the district in San Luis Obispo Superior Court over a 2010 spill that leaked more than 3 million gallons of raw sewage from the South County wastewater treatment plant into an Oceano neighborhood.

In addition to the settlement, as of March 2013, the district had spent approximately $700,000 in legal fees to fight the lawsuit, as well as a $1.1 million fine levied by the water board.

On Thursday, district administrator Gerhardt Hubner did not immediately have a total figure for the amount paid in relation to the lawsuit to date.

“This settlement is a major accomplishment for the district and allows us to move forward on new initiatives including investing in the district’s wastewater infrastructure and exploring ways to use our wastewater for beneficial use through future regional reclamation options,” district Chairman John Shoals wrote in a news release Thursday.

Shoals, current mayor of Grover Beach, chalked the settlement up as a victory for the district, noting how half of the money the district is paying out will be spent locally and benefit ratepayers.

First, the district plans to conduct a groundwater assessment and protection program to “provide scientific information to regional board staff, local water agencies and water purveyors, and the public to protect, restore, and enhance the quality of the waters of Central California.”

Funds will be sent to the Bay Foundation of Morro Bay, which is set to administer the money for the program, expected to cost $110,981.

Next, the district plans to develop a groundwater flow model and modeling analysis for the Northern Cities Management Area and Nipomo Mesa Management Area of the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin, expected to cost $221,962.

Finally, the district will spend another $221,962 to complete an “enhanced compliance” project aimed to improve the quality of district effluent water and prepare for future water recycling opportunities.

“Removing fine grit protects downstream equipment, infrastructure and processes from abrasive wear, sedimentation and damage, increases plant reliability and reduces maintenance costs. The proposed system will accomplish 95 percent grit removal, classification, washing, and de-watering,” the news release stated.

Hubner said Thursday that the enhanced compliance project has already begun after it was approved by the district’s board of directors in April.