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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
CARLSBAD FWO: Settlement to Restore Habitat Damaged by Sewage Spill in San Diego County’s Buena Vista Lagoon
Region 8, October 23, 2008

Stephanie Weagley & Sharon Taylor, Carlsbad FWO

On September 10, 2008, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board) fined the Cities of Vista and Carlsbad approximately $1.1 million for a 7.3 million gallon raw sewage spill into Buena Visa Lagoon in April 2007. Out of this fine, $895,000 will be used to fund two Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP) to help restore Buena Vista Lagoon and Creek.

 

The two SEP projects, proposed jointly by the Service’s Carlsbad’s Fish and Wildlife Office (CFWO) and California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG), provide $500,000 for "Buena Vista Lagoon Ecological Reserve Restoration Engineering Studies & Analyses,” and $395,000 for “Buena Vista Creek Ecological Reserve Habitat Restoration.”  The Water Board’s unanimous vote to fully fund both projects was a precedent setting success. Typically, the Water Board considers funding a SEP project at a level significantly less then 50 percent of the fine.

 

Over the last one and half years, CFWO representatives Sharon Taylor and Judy Gibson from the Environmental Contaminants Division, and Scott Sobiech, Deputy Field Supervisor along with personnel from the CDFG have been working with the cities, Water Board staff, state Coastal Conservancy and other organizations to have the Water Board consider reallocating some of the potential fine so that the monies could benefit the lagoon resources injured from the spill.

 

This settlement is unique in several aspects, but primarily because it provides monetary damages for injuries to trust resources under the Clean Water Act rather than through the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) or Oil Pollution Act (OPA). Additionally, these monies were awarded without the documented presence of hazardous substances or petroleum products.

 

The CFWO and CDFG have worked diligently and cooperatively to meet everyone’s concerns while caring for our natural trust resources. Furthermore, by having 82 percent of this fine stay at the local level and go toward habitat restoration, it opens the door for future settlements on sewage spills in southern California. 

 

 

 

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov