SAN JOSE (CN) — San Jose must reduce the pollutants discharged into surrounding waterways as part of a $100 million settlement with San Francisco Baykeeper.
The City Council approved the settlement with the environmental group Tuesday by 11-1 vote.
“This is not only about aesthetics and having pride in our city, but federal law requires it,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “We are not doing this to appease one group, but we have obligations under federal law and we are going to meet them.”
The lone Republican on the City Council, Johnny Khamis, was the only dissenting vote.
“This group has used federal law to extort money out of the city and I am not voting to settle with them,” he said.
The consent agreement will last 10 years and requires San Jose to implement numerous measures, including reducing trash discharge to surrounding waters by 70 percent by July 2017 and 80 percent by 2019.
Baykeeper staff Attorney Erica Maharg called it a unique agreement that “sets up San Jose as a model for how municipalities control stormwater pollution while helping the water supply. The green infrastructure project introduces a new way of treating stormwater not as a waste but as a resource.”
Before filing the lawsuit in February 2015, Baykeeper investigated bacteria levels in San Jose waterways for two years, and found that most of them significantly exceeded federal standards.
“When we brought this case it wasn’t on the city’s radar,” Maharg said.
In addition to addressing bacteria levels in the streams, rivers and bay, the city agreed to undertake other projects, including rehabilitation or replacement of 65 miles of sewage system infrastructure at a rate of 6.5 miles per year.
“The settlement will allow the city to resolve what will otherwise be very expensive and time-consuming litigation,” City Attorney Richard Doyle wrote in the analysis as part of the council’s memorandum.
The agreement also requires San Jose to develop an annual report on its progress in trash reduction, pipeline replacement, the green infrastructure project and other aspects of the agreement.
The two parties installed a dispute resolution process and removed Baykeeper’s ability to sue the city for similar Clean Water Act infringements during the 10-year period. San Jose has 1,000 miles of stormwater pipes. Baykeeper claimed that every time it rained, significant levels of bacteria reached the waterways where people swim, fish and boat.
Pollutants such as PCBs, mercury and other toxic materials also reached the city’s waterways.
One of the benefits of the green infrastructure project, Maharg said, is that it will help the city reach its targets to remediate heavy metals pollution.
The Guadalupe River, Coyote Creek and the South San Francisco Bay and their tributaries are the waterways that require significant cleanup.
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