An environmental group has sued the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District for releasing too much ammonia into the Delta.
The Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability contends in the suit that the district is dragging its feet in following rules governing threatened wild species, namely Delta smelt.
"We’re concerned because of the 14 tons of ammonia that the district discharges into the Delta everyday," attorney Damien Schiff said.
Schiff said when the district was given its latest permit to release waste water in 2010 by the State Water Board, it was told that it had a responsibility to pay attention to federal wildlife protection regulations.
But the district, which serves nearly 1.4 million customers in Sacramento County and West Sacramento, said it was complying with state regulations and had not broken any laws. In fact, the district engineer says it has voluntarily spent $100 million to reduce ammonia in its waste water releases and is moving quickly to meet a 2021 deadline to upgrade its massive sewer treatment plant to eliminate ammonia from its sewage releases into the river.
"It's a bit of a surprise to us. As far as I can tell, this lawsuit does nothing to improve the quality of what we produce and what we discharge into the Sacramento River," Prabhakar Somavarapu, the Sacramento Area Sewer District's operations manager, told FOX40.
Schiff admits that the lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Sacramento will not get upgrades at the sewage plant built any faster, but he says it puts agencies on notice that they must move quickly to follow federal endangered species guidelines.
The district earlier filed its own lawsuit saying that their was not enough evidence that the ammonia it released had a detrimental affect on smelt, which can be a bellwether for the health of the Delta's eco-system.
But the district has dropped the lawsuit.
“That is still somewhat disputed, but we have gone beyond that point. We have agreed to do whatever the regulatory agencies have asked us to do and we’re doing it," Somavarapu said.
The district's initial reluctance to was understandable because the required fixes would cost close to $2 billion that will be paid by sewer bill increases.
It's the most expensive public works project in Sacramento County history. Sewer rates have already gone up and they will have more than doubled by 2021 when the project is completed.