SSO’s, CSSAs, and VIPs: LA Waterkeeper Honors LA Sanitation

maintenance_hole

It’s easy when preparing for a big benefit like LA Waterkeeper’s upcoming Making Waves event to get lost in pressing details. After all, we try incredibly hard to plan a great night for our guests and to raise funds necessary for our operations. As a newcomer to LA Waterkeeper, I haven’t had much time to learn about the organization’s history, particularly the history behind our relationship with Making Waves’ honorees, the City of Los Angeles and LA Sanitation. So I forced myself to pause and take a little time to learn more about the Collection System Settlement Agreement (CSSA), a landmark agreement signed in 2004 between the City of Los Angeles, LA Waterkeeper (then known as Santa Monica Baykeeper), and several other plaintiffs.

When the parties signed the agreement in 2004, it seemed unlikely that LA Waterkeeper would honor LA Sanitation (then known as the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation) ten years in the future. LA Waterkeeper sued LA Sanitation in 1998 after the city experienced its rainiest February on record. As a result of the rain, the city’s sanitary sewer systems experienced unusually large numbers of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). A sanitary sewer overflow is a rather polite way of characterizing a raw, untreated sewage discharge. Although Los Angeles’ sanitary sewer system (the system that collects and treat waste from sources such as toilets) is separate from its stormwater sewer system, during heavy rains large amounts of additional water can enter the sanitary sewer system through maintenance holes (otherwise known as manholes), leaky pipes, drains, and unauthorized access points. When an SSO occurs, the overflow is discharged wherever the backup occurs—often into streets, basements, creeks, or the stormwater system—but it always flows downhill, which in Los Angeles means that an SSO ultimately finds its way into our waterways, bays, and ocean.

During the heavy rains in 1998 Los Angeles’ SSOs were concentrated in Eagle Rock and South Los Angeles, and as a result of these incidents LA Waterkeeper filed  a lawsuit against the City in US Federal court. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB), the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, and a number of other community groups joined LA Waterkeeper’s suit in 2001, and in the suit the parties argued that the City’s sewer system violated the Clean Water Act and several other environmental permits.

The signing of the CSSA in 2004 ended litigation and represented a major victory for Angelenos affected by SSOs—from residents who lived near the actual overflows, to those who spent time near waterways which the SSOs flowed, to those affected by drops in water quality at beaches into which untreated sewage flowed. LA Sanitation found itself with a huge task ahead: among other provisions, the CSSA required the agency to assess a minimum of 600 miles of sewer lines annually, with a focus on older sewers and those susceptible to blockages; to repair, rehabilitate, or replace up to 60 miles of sewer lines annually; and to upgrade its sewer cleaning efforts to a minimum of 2,600 sewer line miles annually. All within ten years, for a huge agency managing over 6,700 miles of sewer lines.

LA Sanitation embraced its challenge with aplomb, meeting or exceeding the goals set out for it in the CSSA and making big infrastructure upgrades. As a result, annual SSOs in the City of Los Angeles since 2001 have been reduced by an incredible 82%, improving the health and quality of life of Angelenos, and contributing to significant water quality improvements in our waterways, bays, and ocean. It is this achievement by the City of Los Angeles and LA Sanitation that LA Waterkeeper honors at Making Waves 2014. Acrimony has turned to admiration, and we extend our sincere congratulations and thanks to all of the women and men who made these improvements happen.

For more information about Making Waves 2014, visit https://lawaterkeeper.org/event/making-waves-2014/

– Brent Peich, Development Director

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