Friday, December 2, 2022     Volume: 23, Issue: 40

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 28th, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 23, Issue 31

Lompoc pays $260,000 to address toxic wastewater problem

By Taylor O'Connor

The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) sued the city of Lompoc after it reported discharging toxic pollutants into San Miguelito Creek and the Santa Ynez River more than 3,000 times over a 20 year period, EDC Senior Attorney Alicia Roessler told the Sun. 

Lompoc recently agreed to pay a little more than a quarter million dollars to environmental organizations and improve wastewater toxicity monitoring in a legal agreement to settle the 2021 lawsuit, she said.

“The primary issue they had with discharges was toxicity,” Roessler said. “These violations are self-reported by the city. This is their own data, and they knew their violations.” 

Lompoc city officials reported discharging toxic pollutants from its wastewater facility into San Miguelito Creek and the Santa Ynez River bed more than 3,000 times throughout 20 years.

Every agency like Lompoc’s wastewater treatment facility has to follow the Clean Water Act, which regulates discharging pollutants into U.S. waters and requires facilities to have a permit, to report violations that impact water quality, and to conduct follow-up testing if toxic discharges are detected—all things the city failed to do, she explained. 

“Our interest in taking these lawsuits is to get them to pay attention to monitoring and follow their permit. They were not taking it seriously, repeating some poor behavior, and not following permit guidelines,” Roessler said. 

Of the 3,000 violations, the court found the city still liable for 86 due to the statute of limitations’ five-year span, she added. Along with paying the $260,000 to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, legal documents said Lompoc will have to report any future violations to the EDC within 30 days and pay an additional $3,000 per violation to the foundation. 

According to Lompoc Public Information Officer Samantha Scroggin, these discharges came from inaccurate city testing—resulting in false positives—and none of the discharges caused environmental harm. 

“Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne said although it is unfortunate that city tests were inaccurate and showed false positives for pollutant exceedances, the city publicly self-reported each such ‘violation’ over the years as required by law, which constituted binding admissions in court,” Scroggin said in a statement. “The city felt it best to resolve the case by making payments to fund programs to improve the environmental quality of the San Miguelito Creek and Santa Ynez River rather than proceed to trial and have any fines go to the U.S. Treasury.” 

Roessler said she found that response questionable since the city used a test approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She added that officials never tried to use a different test, and the issue is documented with 20 years of data. 

“You can’t argue false testing when you are the ones who used the test, and you used an EPA-approved test. They wouldn’t pay three-quarters of a million dollars if it were a testing issue. If it were a testing issue, we would still be in court,” Roessler said. 

The remaining concern, she said, is what’s causing the city’s water toxicity in the first place. 

“The city was not doing follow-up monitoring; it had violations and had a responsibility to follow up and monitor it. Until recently, when we filed our suit, they started doing some monitoring,” Roessler said. “With the suit, we hope they can get to the bottom of what’s causing the city’s toxicity in discharges.” 

Weekly Poll
What do you think about a farmworker resource center in Santa Barbara County?

It's a great way to create a network of collaboration and reach people in need.
It's been needed in the county for a long time and should have been made earlier.
We don't have the funding now, but we should come up with ideas in the meantime.
We don't need it. There are plenty of resources readily available.

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