Missoula – A national government watchdog group today issued an official notice to sue the City of Missoula for violating the Clean Water Act and endangering the health of citizens who use the Clark Fork River for recreation. On behalf of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), attorney Richard Smith of the Seattle law firm Smith and Lowney claims that the Missoula Wastewater Treatment Plant illegally releases partially-treated sewage into the river, neglects to maintain sewage treatment systems, and fails to report large violations to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Many of these allegations were documented last October in a PEER-released white paper written by current and former treatment plant employees detailing patterns of malfeasance within the plant. The report, titled Fouling Our Nest, described a number of recent failures that caused sewage to flow directly into the Clark Fork River or to contaminate groundwater.
Sewage Bypasses. Since 1997, partially treated sewage has been released into the Clark Fork River numerous times. One bypass in November 1999 spewed more than 160,000 gallons of sewage into the river.
Sludge Tainting Groundwater. Due to system backups and clogs, overflows of sewage sludge escape containment areas and seep into the aquifer under the plant by entering injection wells intended for the disposal of stormwater.
Backflow Threat to Drinking Water. Improper backflow prevention devices used at the plant may enable raw sewage to contaminate the plant’s drinking water supply and wells.
An investigative team Mayor Kadas commissioned to explore the white paper’s allegations has failed to produce any findings. Meanwhile one plant employee suspected to be connected to the paper has been suspended for his involvement.
“We had hoped to work with the city to fix this public health crisis,” said Montana PEER Director Kevin Keenan, a former DEQ water quality enforcement head, “But it is now clear that they would rather ignore the message and attack the messenger. A lawsuit is our last resort.”
The notice of intent to sue officially gives the city 60 days to prepare a defense.
Attorney Richard Smith believes that the situation in Missoula is particularly egregious. “The level of mismanagement and regulator neglect here is astounding, especially since this facility pollutes a section of the river popular for fishing,” commented Smith.