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Water Resources Agency Lawsuit

The Otter Project / Monterey Coastkeeper v Monterey County Water Resources Agency

Even with strict source controls, there will always be agricultural discharges and pollution. Therefore, there is a need for responsible public agencies to collect, treat, and re-use wastewater. In Monterey County, Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) controls Salinas Valley water from headwaters to sea. MCWRA collects rainwater in two large reservoirs (San Antonio and Nacimiento), discharges that water during summer months to (partially) recharge groundwater aquifers, monitors groundwater pumping (but does not regulate pumping in spite of their unique authority to do so), maintains a network of ditches to collect wastewater, pumps wastewater from one sub-watershed to another with a network of six high volume pumping stations, and controls the final discharge of wastewater with a series of flood and tide gates and by bulldozing (without a Coastal Commission permit) a channel for the Salinas River to empty into the sea.

“Flooding” according to MCWRA includes summertime inundation of farmlands by wastewater and therefore the necessity to pump wastewater away from low-lying areas (the Lower Salinas Valley was once a vast network of wetlands and perennial lakes). These activities, plus the chemical spraying to ditch banks to kill all vegetation and continual dredging, are all done without permit.

The Otter Project sued Monterey County Water Resources Agency claiming the Agency had a responsibility to protect water quality.  Monterey County Water Resources claimed they had no such responsibility.  Our lawsuit was filed in 2010 was briefed for trial in 2011.  The Agency suddenly expressed interest in settlement and we went into mediated negotiations (paid for by The Otter Project) for two years.  Settlement went nowhere and in 2014 both sides again briefed for trial.  OTTERS WON in early 2015.  MCWRA has filed a notice of intent to appeal.

Why it matters to sea otters: Sea otters are dying of both pesticide and nutrient pollution.  Liver tissues from California sea otters reflect sever contamination from legacy DDT and PCB, and high levels of other contaminants such as PBDE (a fire retardant). Levels of DDT are extremely high and at levels that could cause outright death (in severe cases) and immune suppression. DDT adheres to soil particles and some of the highest levels ever recorded are in the “Blanco” area MCWRA operates in.  Controlling runoff and soil conservation practices will keep the DDT from being carried to the sea and contaminating marine life and otters.  Toxic algal blooms triggered by nutrient discharges are killing otters by the scores in recent years.  Vegetated treatment (aka engineered wetland) systems are very effective at harmlessly removing nitrogen from water.  The National Marine Fisheries Service has placed conditions, including a requirement to install a vegetated treatment system,  on MCWRA but MCWRA has not complied.

Case Summary

  • Superior Court of California Monterey County, Case M108858, Judge Wills
  • Plaintiff’s (our side) Counsel: Stanford Environmental Law Clinic
  • Respondent’s Counsel: County Counsel and Downey-Brand
  • Causes of Action
    • Failure to file a report of waste discharge;
    • Ongoing discharge without waste discharge requirements;
    • Failure to comply with water quality standards;
    • Failure to protect public trust resources;
    • Public nuisance.
  • Date of filing: October 21, 2010.
  • On March 19, 2015 Judge Wills ruled in favor of The Otter Project.  We Won!
  • In July 2015 MCWRA filed a notice of intent to appeal.

Click here to see our Kick-Off Press Release

Click here to see the actual lawsuit

Click here to see our trial brief

Click here to see the respondents (MCWRA’s) brief

Click here to see our response to the respondents brief

Order Certifying Questions to the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board

Regional Board Response to Certified Questions

Coastkeeper’s Case Management Statement before February 17, 2015 Hearing

MCWRA Case Management Statement Before February 17, 2015 Hearing

February 17, 2015 Hearing Transcript

MCWRA Declaration of Email Inappropriately Omitted

MCWRA Files Ex Parte Application

Coastkeeper Response to Ex Parte Application

Coastkeeper’s Case Management Statement Before March 19, 2015 Hearing

MCWRA’s Case Management Statement Before March 19, 2015 Hearing 

March 19, 2015 Hearing Transcript

OTTERS WIN! Press Release 03.19.2015

Judge Wills Intended Decision

MCWRA’s objection to intended decision 05.12.2015

MCWRA’s request for a stay 05.27.2015

Judge Wills makes Intended Decision FINAL

Final Judgement and Writ

MCWRA Notice of Intent to Appeal