City Sued by U.S. for Clean Water Act Violations

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Mississippi, acting through the Mississippi Department on Environmental Quality (MDEQ), filed a Clean Water Act (CWA) lawsuit against the City of Hattiesburg, Miss., on Wednesday. The complaint, filed in the Southern District of Mississippi, seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties for violations of federal law and the Mississippi Air and Water Pollution Control Law (MAWPCL). Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that Hattiesburg illegally discharged pollutants from its wastewater collection and transmission system (WCTS) and violated the terms of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

According to the filing, Hattiesburg manages its sewage through its WCTS, which receives and treats wastewater from residential, commercial, and industrial sources. The WCTS includes “approximately 305 miles of sanitary sewer lines and 75 sanitary sewer lift stations, and associated appurtenances” that the Hattiesburg operates and has the duty to maintain. These flow to the city’s two wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). The city has permits that allow it to discharge treated sewage from its WWTPs under certain conditions.

The plaintiffs averred that “[o]n hundreds of occasions since February 2007, Hattiesburg admits it has released untreated sewage from its WCTS at locations other than the permitted WWTP outfalls.” These so-called “sanitary sewer overflows” (SSOs) were discharged from the Hattiesburg WCTS to nearby rivers and their perennial tributaries. The SSOs, consisting of “untreated wastewater including, but not limited to, sewage,” constitute “pollutants” within the meaning of the CWA and the MAWPCL.

The plaintiffs also claimed that Hattiesburg failed to comply with permit conditions regarding proper operation and maintenance of its WCTS and failed to report SSOs. The complaint argued that, “[o]n numerous occasions since at least January 1, 2012, Hattiesburg failed to provide the required notification to MDEQ within the timeframes specified by the NPDES permits, of sanitary sewer overflows from its WCTS that were not authorized by the NPDES permits.”

In addition to the three other counts, the MDEQ also charged Hattiesburg with violation of state law for “placement of waste in locations likely to cause pollution of state waters.”

The plaintiffs are represented by lawyers from the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the United States Attorney’s Office.