The City of San Diego has agreed to pay $4.6 million and make the required sanitary sewer system repairs and upgrades.

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board confirmed this in response to a lawsuit brought about by the discharge of more than 11 million gallons of raw sewage into the Sweetwater River.

According to reports, the severe storms on April 10 and 11, 2020, caused the sanitary system to fail. This environmental threat may have harmed nearby residents of a disadvantaged community as well as fish and wildlife.

Additionally, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board stated that it "adopted a cease and desist order with a specified timeline for the necessary repairs." It also mentioned that a sizeable fine had been given for water quality violations brought on by a blockage in the underground drain that transports wastewater beneath the river to the biggest pumping station in the system.

"Aging equipment"

The regional water management agency emphasized that "pump failure and aging equipment at the station were significant contributing factors."

The sewage spill happened about a quarter of a mile upstream from Pepper Park, a popular recreation area with a playground and fishing pier, and about the same distance away from the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which protects migratory and endangered bird species.

As part of the agreement, the city will allocate approximately $3.7 million of the fine to two environmental projects benefiting disadvantaged communities near the spill. One of the projects (Living Shorelines) is for restoration, and the other (Ocean Connectors) involves restoration, education, and community outreach.

Dave Gibson, Executive Officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, emphasized that "these two enforcement actions, when taken together, further the practical vision of the San Diego Water Board and its goals of aggressively addressing water quality violations that pose a threat to human health, wildlife, and the environment. In this instance, proper maintenance of the sewer system and its associated alarm system could have prevented or minimized the impacts of the spill. The amount of the penalty, therefore, reflects the need to hold the city accountable, while the requirement to repair and upgrade the system underscores the need to make vital infrastructure resilient to the major storms that are projected to happen more frequently due to climate change." 

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