Orange County Water District - investigation, cleanup, & liability

By CMTA Staff

Capitol Update, May 3, 2013 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) is the author of SB 658, sponsored by the Orange County Water District (OCWD). This bill would authorize OCWD to investigate the quality of surface and groundwaters within their district to determine whether the waters are contaminated or polluted and also authorizes the district to expend funds to perform any cleanup, abatement, or remedial work to prevent, abate, or contain the contamination of, or pollution to, surface or ground waters of the district. This legislation further requires the person causing or threatening to cause the contamination to be liable to the district for reasonable costs actually incurred in cleaning up, containing or abating the effects of the contamination or taking other remedial action. It would also make liable the responsible party for the costs incurred in investigating the contamination or pollution in addition to all other legal and equitable remedies available to the water district, including declaratory relief.

OCWD is renowned for hiring lawyers on a contingency basis to sue owners of property where chemicals or oil products have been stored, whether or not there is proof of contaminations and regardless of whether an investigation of the site has already been conducted and closed by another agency (the Department of Toxic Substances Control or the Regional Water Quality Control Board, for example). Property owners have even sued for investigatory costs without any conversation or any investigative work. While many companies have settled out of court in the last 25 years since they began this practice, in recent years businesses have gone to court and won repeatedly. This legislation is meant to give OCWD the upper hand.

During the bill’ s hearing in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on May 1, a number of business owners testified that the actions of this district have them on the verge of bankruptcy due to court costs. They would prefer to use this money for any remediation needed).  The OCWD is the fourth richest water district in the state and is the only district known to have used such “strong arm tactics.” One person testified that OCWD has collected 25 million dollars and has not cleaned up one ounce of water.

CMTA does not normally get involved with regional issues, but this legislation could establish a terrible precedent. CMTA and numerous business groups are opposing SB 658.

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