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Annual Report 2002

California River Watch Annual Report 2002-2003

Clean Water Act Celebrates 30th Anniversary

Dear River Watchers,

2002 was the 30th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Since its passage in 1972 the Clean Water Act has been the principle law governing pollution control and water quality of the nation’s waterways. It established objectives for restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of all rivers, lakes, streams, tributaries, wetlands, and groundwater. Additional objectives were to make all waters of the United States fishable and swimmable by eliminating all pollutant discharges into waters of the U.S. by 1985 and securing healthy waters for fish, shellfish, wildlife, and people by 1983.

The Clean Water Act has been praised as one of the most successful United States environmental laws. Through its enforcement significant improvements have been made to clean up the nation’s waterways. It has allowed for substantial decreases in the quantities of contaminants discharged into waterways, made improvements in drinking water quality and has worked to reduce numbers of net wetlands lost to development. Overall safety of waterways for fishing and swimming have generally increased. However, the threats facing the health of our waters and the Clean Water Act have never been more dire.

Recent reports by the Environmental Protection Agency suggest that the nation’s water has grown more foul, indicating that the percentage of polluted streams is rising. A five-year study commissioned by the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment revealed that the United States may have no streams left that are free from chemical contamination which clearly poses severe threats to public health and safety. The report also highlights shocking numbers of plant and animal species at risk of extinction due to contaminated water.

At this time, the Bush administration is moving to dismantle key provisions of environmental protection within the Clean Water Act in direct defiance of the public interest. A recent report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Clean Water Network aptly titled Clean Water at Risk: A 30th Anniversary Assessment of the Bush Administration’s Rollback of Clean Water Protections yields some startling facts and statistics of the dangers that our waters face in the coming years. Using a relentless series of unprecedented attacks aimed against the very foundations of the Clean Water Act, the Bush Administration is presently seeking to: eliminate key provisions that protect wetlands from development, strip many of our creeks and tributaries from regulatory protections under the Clean Water Act, derail cleanup of polluted waters, and effectively withdraw proposals to limit the discharge of raw sewage into our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Add to this a looming budgetary crisis within the state of California which will only lead to drastic reductions in regulatory enforcement abilities.

River Watch believes that it is only a matter of time before attempts to systematically undermine the public’s right to intervene and protect our precious waters will be compromised. We will continue working to defend water quality in spite of these threats and will continue to bring citizen suits to ensure the health and protection of all rivers, streams, tributaries, oceans, bays, wetlands, surface and groundwater throughout the North Coast Region.


River Watch Clean Water Act Enforcements

Protecting Groundwater

Recent findings throughout California point to a very serious threat to drinking water supplies. Perchlorate, a highly toxic rocket fuel ingredient, has been detected in large areas that serve as a primary drinking water source for a large percentage of residents. MTBE, a gasoline additive with carcinogenic properties, is estimated to have already infected one third of the nation’s community water supplies. River Watch has been highly effective in addressing threats posed by toxic contaminants that threaten groundwater and drinking water supplies. Below is a summary of 2002 actions that have led to cleanup and remediation efforts throughout our region.

Equilon Enterprises, LLC
Problem: Contamination to Santa Rosa Creek due to leaking underground storage tank at a gas station facility owned and operated by Equilon in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County.
RW Action and Results: A complete excavation, cleanup and abatement of the site was completed. In addition, Equilon will increase its monitoring in and around Santa Rosa Creek. Our settlement includes built-in incentives for full compliance by Equilon in the event of violations or contamination of nearby wells and surface waters.

Mission Oil (Rotten Robbie)
Problem: Soil and groundwater contamination of petroleum, benzene, and toluene from under ground storage tanks at two sites located in Santa Rosa and Rhonert Park, Sonoma County.
RW Action and Results: After River Watch filed a lawsuit under the California Safe Drinking Water & Toxic Enforcement Act (Prop 65), Mission Oil agreed to clean up and abatement at each site.

MALM Fireplaces
Problem: Nearby contamination of wells with TCE, a commonly used solvent for degreasing metals. TCE is a human carcinogen and is a chemical known to the State to cause cancer. Groundwater and soil gasses underlying this Santa Rosa site were also shown to be contaminated with volatile organic compounds which were indicated to be moving subsurface into nearby Colgan Creek.
RW Action and Results: River Watch filed suit and MALM agreed to settle by submitting a work/cleanup plan which includes a schedule to cleanup the facility within one year. MALM also will have EnviroNet Consulting conduct an environmental audit to determine compliance with all environmental laws.

Protecting Surface Waters

One of the major sources of harm to our water resources and to public health is substandard sewage treatment facilities. In many communities, violations of the Clean Water Act stem from antiquated collection systems, undersized facilities, old equipment, and inconsistent maintenance schedules. Many violators do nothing about solving their pollution problems until someone steps in. Often there has been years of on-going pollution and failure to comply with clean up and cease and desist orders before a citizen suit is filed. The suit finally brings people to the table to negotiate definite plans for cleanup and remediation.

City of Crescent City
Problem: River Watch sued the City of Crescent City for violations of requirements of NPDS permits, the Basin Plan, and the Code of Federal Regulation. Crescent City exceeded discharge limitations, effluent limitations, receiving water limitations, and failed to adequately report continual discharges of raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean. Crescent City failed to maintain its collection system and continually discharged coliform organisms into receiving waters. It also failed to monitor and report detection levels required by law for chromium, lead, mercury, arsenic, dieldrin, heptachlor, and toxaphene.
RW Action and Results: The City will implement a number of measures to address the potential for overflows with its collection system which include replacing its outfall pumps. The City will implement a detailed monitoring system on all of its treated effluent that it discharges. A compliance audit of the City’s POTW has been conducted by an expert as well as a creek/sewer line study measuring for coliform upstream and downstream of any water body located within 100 feet of a City owned or operated sewer line.

City of Willits
Problem: After six months of negotiating with very little cooperation from Willits staff or city council, River Watch was forced to file suit. The City of Willits was violating the law by discharging excess effluent to sensitive wetlands containing endangered plant species. When Willits could not meet its dilution ratio during direct discharge to surface waters, it would “irrigate” the often-inundated wetlands with excess effluent, which would runoff into a nearby creek.
RW Action and Results: The City of Willits will cease its illicit discharges to wetlands during the winter months and will conduct a compliance audit and a comprehensive creek and sewer line study which includes water quality monitoring up and downstream for pollutants such as coliform.

Municipality of Covelo
Problem: Covelo’s wastewater treatment plant discharges into Grist Creek, a tributary of the Eel River. Covelo has agreed to address water pollution and public health concerns by working with River Watch. In this case legal counsel for River Watch worked on a pro bono basis with no attorney’s fees and without seeking monetary penalties.
RW Action and Results: The community is working to comply with the Clean Water Act under an agreement with River Watch, by submitting self- monitoring reports, and to reducing run-off from their waste disposal facilities to nearby creeks and streams.

City of Ferndale
Problem: The City of Ferndale had numerous problems including lack of reporting, monitoring, and illegal overland flow system.
RW Action and Results: The spirit of cooperation between RW and Ferndale led to a settlement without the need to file suit through several visits to the Ferndale facilities and numerous discussions with RW experts. A resolution of all of RW’s concerns will result in an independent compliance audit made public as well as Ferndale redesigning its monitoring and reporting program. Ferndale will contribute $5,000 to Community Clean Water Institute for remediation funds to be used for water quality education.

Hay’s Septage
Problem: This septage disposal site in Mendocino County had chronic pollution problems due to illegal discharges both directly and indirectly to a nearby creek with raw sewage material.
RW Action and Results: Only after RW filed suit did the Regional Water Quality Control Board agree to take control of the site and supervise compliance. Hay is no longer discharging to open land and the site has been re-opened under extensive RWQCB supervision. RW supports these types of facilities as long as they are operating in full compliance, and believes that compliance was only achieved in this case through the filing of a lawsuit.

Current Cases – Protecting the Middle Reach of the Russian River

City of Healdsburg
Healdsburg owns, maintains, and operates a wastewater treatment, refuse and disposal facility that serves the City of Healdsburg and adjacent areas. The treatment facility has chronic pollution problems associated with its antiquated collection system, undersized facility, old equipment, and inconsistent maintenance schedule. Treated effluent is disposed of in Basalt Pond located south of the facility and adjacent to the Russian River. Basalt Pond is hydrologically connected to the Russian River and can be considered a tributary to the Russian River, and therefore waters of the United States. Due to its proximity to and hydrological connection with the Russian River, Basalt Pond discharges directly to the Russian River. Each day that Healdsburg discharges into Basalt Pond it is violating the Clean Water Act. Healdsburg has no NPDES permit allowing it to discharge to any waters of the United States.

Syar Industries
Syar Industries owns and operates a sand and gravel processing operation and facility that consists of aggregate washing and grading as well as asphalt-concrete plant. The facility is adjacent to the Russian River. Syar has failed to comply with the terms and conditions of California’s General Industrial Storm Water Permit for Industrial Storm Water Discharges. River Watch is seeking to bring the facility into compliance with the procedural requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit.


River Watch works to educate and activate citizens through a broad-based public advocacy program. River Watch makes every attempt to reach a mutual agreement through cooperation rather than litigation. However, if cooperation fails River Watch brings a citizen’s suit to prevent any further harm.

Remediation Funds returned to the community:

River Watch gains no monetary benefit from its enforcement actions. Instead, River Watch seeks “penalties” from the polluter in the form of remediation funds, which go back to community non-profit organizations to redress previous or future harm.

River Watch works with legal counsel and lawyers from public interest law firms. All cases are on a contingency basis or pro-bono. Expense reimbursements and legal fees are determined by the judge or agreements reached by consensus by all parties with mediators.

River Watch has been successful in mitigating water pollution caused by numerous industries, including oil companies, lumber mills, gravel quarries, wine factories, and composting facilities. These cases dealt with preventing facilities from discharging pollutants to the tributaries of the Russian River and the Russian River, itself. Because of the action taken by River Watch, each case resulted in abatement, cleanup, and remediation.