San Fernando Valley Los Angeles Attorneys
Navigation Two
Phone Number

Entries in groundwater (2)

Tuesday
Sep122017

Temporarily Tapped Out: More Time to Consider California's Clean Water Funding Bill

Environmental Litigation AttorneyEnvironmental Litigation Defense Attorney

 

Stephen T. Holzer

818.907.3299

 

How deep does the clean water issue go in California? Let’s first take a look at some fairly recent and comprehensive findings:

There was good news and bad news regarding the cleanliness of California’s drinking water, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study released in 2015.

California reservoir

The research comprised part of California’s Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment Program, more commonly called GAMA. It included 10 years’ worth of test data from untreated water in 11,000 wells across the state. GAMA considered area population and development to weight findings from the well tests.

First the good news: Contamination from nitrates, solvents, pesticides, etc. occurred in high concentrations in only five percent of California’s groundwater resources. The bad news was that naturally occurring contaminants like arsenic or uranium were found in about 20 percent of the state’s groundwater resources.

So what should be done about water contaminants?

According to the USGS, local and regional agencies are responsible for cleaning up the problem of high contaminant levels, particularly in high population areas like the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys near Los Angeles. And the State Water Resources Control Board regulates safety under several state clean water laws, including the California Safe Drinking Water Act and the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.

But for some lawmakers, that may not be enough.

Temporarily Diverted: Clean Water Tax

Senate Bill 623, introduced by Senator Bill Monning (D-San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Cruz), would impose the first-ever consumer tax on drinking water. 

The bill would levy a 95 cent per month tax on water meters “up to one inch or customers without water meters” (see Article 5 of SB 623).  The tax would increase, depending on the size of the water meter at issue, to as much as $10 per month for customers with water meters greater than four inches.

There would be exemptions from the tax for low-income customers, e.g. if the customer’s household income equals or is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or if the water meter exclusively measures flow of non-potable/recycled water.

The taxes, estimated at $110 - 140M per year, will be diverted to a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to clean up our drinking water sources.

But there are an interesting mix of groups and individuals both for and against the bill. As a result of the controversy, SB 623 is now on a two year track and won’t be decided until 2018, which gives us all time to contemplate.

Strange Water Bed Fellows

Farm Crop SprayerAccording to the Visalia Times-Delta, more than one million California residents live in communities with unsafe drinking water because of 300 state water systems that don’t meet federal criteria.

Many of the communities with bad water are in the middle of the state – the breadbasket of California, where agriculture is the main industry. Perhaps that’s why the farming industry is teaming up with environmentalists to support this clean water bill.

A spokesperson for the Western Growers’ Association released this statement regarding the clean water fund:

The use of organic and commercial fertilizers are necessary to replenish soil nutrients to allow for crop production. We believe it is in the best interests of the people of the state of California to have a safe and secure food supply grown in California for the benefit of people everywhere. . . SB 623 strikes the needed balance between providing the necessary resources for addressing critical drinking water needs, while protecting agriculture from certain nitrate related enforcement actions in the short-term. 

The Association of California Water Agencies, however, opposes SB 623 because the bill turns hundreds of water agencies into tax collectors, opens the door to more taxes on water in the future, and thus hinders the affordability of water, which is fundamental to life.

The Association thinks California’s General Fund and the income from the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund should pay for cleaning up drinking water.

And not all environmental groups are on board with SB 623, as some contend the bill gives the agricultural industry a “pay to pollute” pass, as the bill would allow farmers to enroll in a waiver program by paying an applicable fee, potentially protecting them from environmental enforcement actions.

So one question that must be answered between now and a legislative vote in 2018: How best can we protect both our food and our drinking water suppliers? Will SB 623 take care of one challenge without sacrificing the other? 

Stephen T. Holzer is a Business Litigation Attorney and the Chair of our Environmental Practice Group.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Tuesday
Aug082017

Property Needs Environmental Cleanup? Don't Scrap It, SCAP It!

Environmental Litigation AttorneyEnvironmental Litigation Defense Attorney

Stephen T. Holzer

818.907.3299

 

Environmental Soil SampleProperty owners in California may have access to state funds for environmental cleanup of smaller brownfields projects. The money comes from two pieces of environmental legislation passed in 2014.

The Proposition 1 Groundwater Sustainability Program authorized $7.545 billion in bonds for a variety of water projects, including storage, restoration and protection efforts. The State Water Resources Control Board (“Board”) was directed to distribute the funds amongst five separate programs; one of which includes the Groundwater Sustainability fund – it would receive $800 million.  

California Senate Bill 445 was an emergency measure also approved in 2014. The bill, essentially an amendment to the long-established Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund (“UST Fund”), provides for “. . . investigating and cleaning up contaminated sites without regard to the source of the contamination, particularly where there are no viable responsible parties . . .”   

Thus, unlike the UST Fund, the source of the contamination need not be an underground storage tank; and, unlike the case with the UST Fund, the contamination need not be petroleum-hydrocarbon based.

This part of SB 445 falls under SCAP, or the Site Cleanup Subaccount Program, funded with approximately $20 million in state money, plus local matching funds. That may not sound like a lot of money for environmental cleanup, but for some property owners, SCAP may provide the perfect solution.

Navigating Clean Water Resources

California Funding for Groundwater Cleanup

Cleanup projects eligible for SCAP funds include those properties that: 

  • May cause harm or potential harm from surface or groundwater contaminants

  • Have been polluted by human-made contaminants, e.g. nitrates (common in fertilizers), perchloroethylene (used in dry cleaning industry), pesticides, hexavalent chromium (commonly found in welding projects, paints, chrome plating), etc.

  • Received a directive from a regulatory agency

  • Are owned by responsible parties with limited resources

  • May include site characterization, source identification or implementation of cleanup. 

Certain applicants for SCAP funding will be given priority, including those that are significantly threatening to human or environmental health. Other priority projects include those in disadvantaged communities or those that cannot receive other cleanup funds.

The Board will also balance costs of cleanup vs. benefits.

Before applying for SCAP funds, property owners should first pre-apply for the Groundwater Quality Funding Program, through the Financial Assistance Application Submittal Tool (FAAAST). SCAP applicants will need to complete a grant agreement form, as well as forms describing the cleanup work to be done and the budget for such work.

Stephen T. Holzer is a Business Litigation Attorney and the Chair of our Environmental Practice Group.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120