MODESTO — A clean-water advocacy group is suing Modesto, saying the city is in violation of the federal Clean Water Act because of its more than 310 sewage spills since 2007, which have released nearly 379,000 gallons of raw or partially treated sewage.
The lawsuit claims that about 242,000 gallons of the sewage reached surface water, such as Dry Creek, and the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers, which feed into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Attorneys for the Stockton-based California Sportfishing Protection Alliance filed the lawsuit in federal court in Fresno in mid-December.
The lawsuit is asking a judge to rule that Modesto is in violation of the Clean Water Act and to fine the city more than $1 million $32,500 for each sewage spill from Oct. 15, 2007, to Jan. 12, 2009, and $37,500 for each spill after Jan. 12, 2009.
The lawsuit also asks the judge to stop Modesto from further violations of the Clean Water Act and for the city to pay the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance's legals costs in pursuing its lawsuit.
"We've been engaged with settlement talks with Modesto and its attorneys," said Bill Jennings, the alliance's executive director. "The discussions have been amicable, and we're seeking a solution."
Spills can occur when sewer lines break, back up or are not properly maintained. Modesto has about 670 miles of sewer lines and processes 25 million gallons of sewage daily, said Gary DeJesus, the city's deputy public works director.
He said city officials have met with alliance officials and their attorneys and expect additional meetings in an effort to resolve the lawsuit.
DeJesus, who has been with the city since 2008, said Modesto's waste-water division has made a concerted effort in the past several years to reduce spills through such measures as changing its maintenance practices, bringing in new technology and restructuring how its employees do their work.
"We began taking steps to reduce the number of sanitary sewage overflows (spills)," he said. "We have made dramatic progress. We are at a level we believe would be acceptable to the Environmental Protection Agency."
DeJesus said Modesto had no sewage spills in December.
The alliance's lawsuit includes documentation listing Modesto's sewage spills from July 2007 through June 2012, based on information the city provided the state.
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance has filed roughly 100 lawsuits in about two decades in California's federal eastern district courts against cities, counties, businesses and others, claiming violations of clean-water, pollution and other regulations.
The Clean Water Act allows private parties to file lawsuits to enforce its provisions.
In March, Sacramento County and the Sacramento Area Sewer District agreed to pay $660,000 and drastically reduce raw sewage spills to resolve a lawsuit brought by the alliance, according to Sacramento Bee archives.
And in December, The Union Democrat in Sonora reported that the alliance and the Tuolumne Utilities District were in talks to settle the alliance's lawsuit against the TUD.
Jennings said the alliance does not receive any money when it settles a lawsuit. He said the settlement money pays the alliance's attorneys and consultants and goes to a foundation that distributes the money for water-quality projects.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.