Court ruling means tougher sewage rules in Sacramento County

Rules governing the Sacramento region’s treated sewage may have to get a little tougher following a court ruling this week.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny ruled Monday that state officials didn’t follow proper procedure in 2012 when they set certain limits on the effluent generated by the Sacramento regional wastewater treatment plant. The plant near Elk Grove treats all the sewage generated in the Sacramento region, from Folsom to West Sacramento, and discharges it into the Sacramento River near Freeport.

The treatment plant, operated by the Sacramento County Regional Sanitation District, is the largest single source of water pollution in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Its effluent is suspected of harming imperiled fish species. The new permit, issued by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, set tighter limits on many contaminants in the effluent.

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance sued the regional board in 2013 to contest numerous terms of the permit, alleging they weren’t strict enough to protect salmon, steelhead and other species. On Monday, the judge upheld three of those claims dealing with how effluent temperature and concentrations of toxic metals are measured.

“It’s important to get the toxicity out of that effluent,” said Bill Jennings, executive director of the alliance. “They’re going to have to go back to the drawing boards on this.”

Ken Landau, assistant executive officer at the water board, said only one issue may result in significant changes: The judge ruled that the measuring point in the Sacramento River for toxic metals – such as copper nickel and cadmium – will have to be moved. This could require more stringent treatment of the wastewater before it reaches the river.

“That one could result in new effluent limits, I don’t know yet,” Landau said. “We just have to crunch the numbers and that’s not a thing we can do quickly.”