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Sunday, Sep 25, 2022
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Latest Spill Could Cost City $360M

As San Diego businesses deal with a massive weeklong sewage spill, local wastewater officials are awaiting word from the state on whether they’ll have to pay fines and penalties which could theoretically top $360 million.

San Diego’s Municipal Wastewater District (MWD) could face fines as high as $360 million, said Ron Kole, the agency’s public information officer.

When the Regional Water Quality Control Board learned of the spill Feb. 28, it responded with a “notice of violation” , a preliminary citation saying that the MWD could be liable for fines of up to $10,000 per day of pollution, and penalties of $10 for each gallon of sewage spilled, Kole said.

That works out to $360,070,000.

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Now the remaining questions center on what the wastewater district will do next, and how much it will be penalized for the spill.

John Robertus, executive officer of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, said it was unlikely that his staff would penalize the wastewater district for the full $360 million amount. He credited the diligence of the wastewater district in the cleanup efforts.

“I got a call from Dave Schlesinger, the director of the Metropolitan Wastewater District, personally. Their staff also notified our office,” he said. “In my opinion, they were responsive to get that pipe repaired.”

Robertus expressed admiration at the speed with which the sewer main was fixed, especially taking into account the inaccessible location and the steepness of the canyon. The wet ground could have created hazardous conditions for the crew, he said.

Any decision on how much the district must pay will be based on its response to the original notice of violation. The district’s response, consisting of almost 100 pages of documents, was submitted recently, and the regional water board staff needs at least a week to read the report, Robertus said.

Whatever amount the regional water board decides upon, the staff must justify its decision , based on how severe the violation was, how severe the environmental degradation was, how cooperative the water district has been, and other factors, Robertus said.

Penalties , if any , could be in the form of a check sent to the state’s abatement fund, or in a mandate for the wastewater district to pay for some local projects to help improve water quality, he said.

As a result of the February spill, the wastewater district may consider adding a remote sensor capability to its sewer system. If it does, San Diego would be the first city in the country to do so, Kole said.

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