Sacramento sewer district to pay $225,000 fine for 2015 spill into Arcade Creek

Restoration work along a bank of Arcade Creek in Citrus Heights at Methany Way. January 20, 2005. Sacramento Bee/ Florence Low
Restoration work along a bank of Arcade Creek in Citrus Heights at Methany Way. January 20, 2005. Sacramento Bee/ Florence Low Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

The Sacramento Area Sewer District has agreed to pay a $225,000 fine to the state for 80 sewer spills over a period of three and a half years, including one that dumped raw sewage into Arcade Creek.

The spills covered by the settlement with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board occurred between March 2012 and November 2015. The district also faces potential enforcement action over more recent spills that happened when rain overwhelmed the district’s pipeline system, which collects sewage from much of Sacramento County and delivers it to the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District for treatment.

About 400,000 gallons of sewage spilled from Sacramento Area Sewer District pipelines in January and February, more than the amount spilled in a nearly four-year period preceding the winter storms, according to the settlement agreement. The district had spills totaling 300,000 gallons during the 2012-2015 period.

The largest spill covered by the settlement occurred between Oct. 17-19, 2015, when a contractor installed a temporary sewage line over Arcade Creek and left for the weekend. The line came apart and an estimated 188,000 gallons of sewage spilled into the creek near 6601 Thalia Way in Citrus Heights.

“These sewage spills have the potential to impact aquatic life and human health,” said Andrew Altevogt, assistant executive officer for the regional water board. “This settlement acknowledges the serious nature of the spills, as well as efforts that SASD will take to reduce future spills.”

District officials say they’re taking steps to make sure sewage stays contained in the future.

“The settlement agreement noted that SASD has a robust spill notification and response program in place,” said the district operations director, Rosemary Clark. “It was unfortunate that the Arcade Creek spill occurred when a contractor’s temporary bypass failed during a rain event in the course of construction of a sewer improvement project. However, since then, SASD has improved inspection practices by contractors and staff.”

The spill was discovered the following Monday morning. The district says it dammed portions of the creek and was able to pump out all of the sewage.

Central Valley Water Board staff maintains that full recovery of the sewage, three days after the spill, would be impossible, records show. Staff concluded that the spill had the potential to harm municipal water supplies and aquatic life in the creek. The board estimated the amount of sewage spilled because there was no way to measure it.

According to the settlement, the district has updated its policies to prevent future accidents, including increased monitoring of such work during storms.