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Los Angeles agrees to pay $2 billion sewage-spill settlement

LOS ANGELES – In one of the largest lawsuits in U.S. history concerning sewer infrastructure, the city of Los Angeles agreed to a $2 billion settlement under which it will rebuild at least 488 miles of sewer lines, clean 2,800 miles of sewers annually, increase the sewage system’s capacity, and plan for future expansion.

The Los Angeles sewer system – the largest in the United States – comprises 6,500 miles of sewer lines serving 4 million residents. Since1994, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the city has experienced more than 4,500 sewage spills.

The spills prompted Santa Monica Baykeeper, a Marina del Rey, Calif. -based environmental watchdog organization, to file lawsuit against Los Angeles in 1998. The EPA, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, and five community groups joined the lawsuit in 2001. Los Angeles will pay the EPA and the regional board $800,000 each in civil penalties. The board said it would direct its$800,000 to local environmental projects.

According to the EPA, Los Angeles will spend $8.5 million on environmental projects in addition to the work required to improve its sewer system. Projects include stream and wetland restorations and efforts to capture and treat polluted stormwater. The terms of the settlement also require Los Angeles to undertake more aggressive maintenance practices and advanced planning to identify and repair or replace problem sewers before spills occur.

As part of a 2003 Infrastructure Report Card for Los Angeles , the city’s Bureau of Sanitation, Wastewater Engineering Services Division cited a Capital Improvement Expenditure Plan that called for spending $1.8 billion during the next10 years for all sewers, including relief sewers and interceptors.