Texas City Sued For Clean Water Act Violations

On September 25, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) sued the City of Corpus Christi, Texas, for violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Texas Water Code on allegations that the defendant illegally “discharged untreated sewage and other harmful pollutants from the sanitary sewage collection and treatment systems” owned and maintained by the City. 

Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the discharged sewer sledge was caused by the City’s failure to “fully treat wastewaters at its six wastewater treatment plants” and “by poor maintenance of operation of the collection systems.” The plaintiffs further averred “that untreated sewage contains organic matter, bacteria, and other potential pathogens that can cause a number of diseases in humans, including, but not limited to, enteric diseases such as gastroenteritis, dysentery and cholera…(that is) also harmful to the environment, including, but not limited to, aquatic life.” 

The plaintiffs claimed that the City’s aforementioned sewage release violated the CWA, which prohibits the release of any pollutant into federally owned waterways without following the requirements of a permit from the EPA, and the Texas Water Code, which states that “except as authorized by the [TCEQ], no person may discharge any…sewage…from any point source into any water in the State.” The plaintiffs argued that while the defendant held an EPA permit and maintained authorization from the TCEQ to release sewage generally, the requirements of the permit and authorization were violated frequently since 2007. For example, proffered the plaintiffs, the EPA permit mandated that sewage could only be released from certain approved outfalls, which the defendant failed to clean regularly resulting in “buildups of fats, oil and grease, root obstructions, and the accumulation of other debris” that caused line breaks in the wastewater piping, resulting in the unauthorized dissemination of pollutants onto the residential property of others, as well as illegally into the “Nueces River, Corpus Christi Bay, Oso Creek, Oso Bay, and Laguna Madre.” In a similar fashion, the plaintiffs asseverated, the federal permit and state pollutant authorization placed limits on the amount of pollutants that could be released, even through approved outlays, which the defendant violated consistently by exceeding approved pollutant limits for fecal coliform, ammonia, nitrogen, copper, and chlorine. 

The plaintiffs requested an injunction requiring the defendant to “take all steps necessary to comply with the CWA and the terms and conditions of the (EPA) permit…and refrain from further violations of the…(EPA permit),” while also “ordering (the City) to mitigate the past environmental harm caused by its violations of the (permit).” Additionally, the plaintiffs sought civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day for violations of the Texas Water Code and up to $54,833 per day for violations of the CWA.