CRLA Joins Lawsuit Against County Water Resources Agency
August 30, 2012
The legal battle over nitrate pollution in the Salinas River basin heads to Monterey County Superior Court on Sept. 14, when Judge Lydia Villarreal is expected to make a decision on a case filed nearly two years ago against the Monterey County Water Resources Agency.
Monterey Coastkeeper, a nonprofit that promotes water quality, sued the county over polluted runoff, arguing the Water Resources Agency is responsible for cleaning up the waters that eventually flow into the bay. Researchers have detected high levels of nitrate, which is linked to fertilizers, and other agricultural and urban pollutants in Monterey County waters.
California Rural Legal Assistance filed a friend-of-the-court brief last week, joining Coastkeeper in urging the judge to crack down on MCWRA.
"What struck me was the absence of the human angle of this [lawsuit]," CRLA attorney Michael Marsh says. "We wanted to say, 'Yes: Clean up the waters for the otters, but also do it for the farmworkers and their families and the communities that rely on groundwater.
"We felt that there was a need to educate the court about the importance of protecting residents of the Salinas Valley from nitrate contamination," Marsh adds.
The county has an opportunity to request that the judge strike CRLA's brief from the case as erroneous. Attorneys at Sacramento-based Downey Brand, the firm representing MCWRA in this case, were not available for comment on Thursday.
In court papers filed July 30, the county argues that Coastkeeper's going after the wrong agency entirely in this lawsuit.
"This lawsuit is not about otters," county attorneys wrote. "This lawsuit is also not about whether or not there is pollution in the waters of Monterey County…This lawsuit raises a much narrower—and much simpler—question: Does the Monterey County Water Resources Agency…have a legal responsibility to regulate the quality of the water it receives?…
"Not surprisingly, that simple question also has a simple answer: No."
Coastkeeper and CRLA will argue the county is obligated to ensure waters that flow through ditches it maintains, most notably the Blanco Drain, are clean. "The Water Agency has the jurisdiction, obligation, financial resources, and expertise to protect the county's most precious public resource—safe and healthful drinking water," according to CRLA's argument.
In court documents, the county maintains it's up to the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, which authored the controversial ag waiver—which is currently under appeal—to regulate pollution and runoff.