An environmental advocacy group wants Tacoma to do a better job ensuring that large industries clean up their wastewater, and it’s taking the city to court to compel reforms that could help protect Puget Sound from contaminants.
Puget Soundkeeper Alliance filed its lawsuit this week in federal court. It’s based on a state Department of Ecology audit from 2014 that found shortcomings in how the city oversees certain large businesses that are required to pretreat their wastewater before releasing it into Tacoma’s sewage system.
The lawsuit and the audit do not say explicitly that Tacoma’s wastewater discharges have exceeded pollution limits. However, the Ecology report listed several deficiencies in how the city manages its pretreatment requirements, which calls into question its compliance with the Clean Water Act.
For example, at the time of the audit, Tacoma had allowed a recycling company to discharge wastewater with higher amounts of arsenic and selenium than it allows other companies.
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Ecology recommended that the company’s discharge permit be revised to comply with the city’s normal standards.
“Unfortunately I found the program was not meeting all requirements” in the wastewater plant’s pollution discharge permit, Ecology environmental engineer David Knight wrote in a summary of the audit that was delivered to the city last year.
That caught Soundkeeper’s attention because “this regulatory structure is one of the controls in place under the Clean Water Act to make sure what flows into the Sound isn’t harmful. If the city is not effective in managing its piece of the puzzle, then it might fall apart,” Soundkeeper staff attorney Kately Kinn said.
Tacoma has not yet filed a response to the Soundkeeper complaint. In a statement, the city attorney’s office noted that “there is no allegation of a specific illegal discharge into the waters of Commencement Bay or any other water body.”
Soundkeeper has filed more than 160 lawsuits since the 1980s seeking to enforce compliance with the Clean Water Act in Western Washington.
In its complaint, it seeks reforms to the city’s wastewater regulatory policies as well as penalties of up to $37,500 a day that would be distributed to a third-party environmental group.
The city attorney’s office said Tacoma has been working to resolve the issues raised in the lawsuit since Soundkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue several months ago. “The filing of the complaint was anticipated and will not affect the City’s efforts to bring these issues to resolution,” the statement said.