Case #854.1

Wastewater Wars: Sequel

Publication Date: January 01, 1989
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In 1974, the small city of Arcata, California, learned that a new state policy would soon forbid the release of its treated wastewater into Humboldt Bay unless it could prove that the wastewater "enhanced" the bay. That same year the Humboldt Bay Wastewater Authority was formed to devise a federal- and state-funded regional approach to wastewater disposal. By 1976, Arcata realized it had a serious problem on its hands: if the city hooked up to the proposed HBWA treatment plant, sewer bills would double in the near future and would probably continue to climb. Moreover, the huge sewage pipes mapped to run between Arcata and Eureka and under the bay's shipping channels could allow unwanted strip development of the rural area between the cities and might even lead to an ecological disaster. But if Arcata decided to go its own way, it would be subject to a building moratorium and other penalties unless it could overcome the undefined "enhancement" requirement. The case tells the story of Arcata's long political struggle to derail the planned regional sewage treatment plant and force federal and state regulators to accept its own, unconventional local alternative. It raises questions as to how to recognize innovation and the nature of bureaucratic cultures which discourage innovation. It also raises the question of whether community based opposition might be too heavily weighted in the political process.

Other Details

Case Author:
Esther Scott and Leslie Brunetta
Faculty Lead:
Alan Altshuler
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States