River Watch Guest Editorials
March 21, 2002
To: Eureka Times Standard
PO Box 3580
Eureka, CA 95502
From: California River Watch
Occidental, CA 95465
River Watch would like to correct inaccurate information based on your newspaper articles printed December 2, 12, 2001 and January 2, 2002.
River Watch is a non profit organization dedicated to protecting the waters of Northern California through education, pollution prevention, enforcement, and preservation. Unfortunately, some of the major sources of harm to our precious water resources and to public health are substandard sewage treatment facilities. In many communities, violations of clean water law stem from antiquated collection systems, undersized facilities, old equipment, and inconsistent maintenance schedules. Very often violations are a result of public agencies and businesses dodging or dragging out necessary repairs over years and years risking the public's health and environmental contamination. In most cases River Watch's legal counsel, Jack Silver has found that violators do not do enough to solve their pollution problems until someone steps in.
In general River Watch responds to the complaints of public citizens. Many of these individuals are the victims of contamination and express health concerns for themselves and for their families. After a complaint is filed, those responsible for preserving water quality receive a notice letter and are given six months or more to address their pollution problems. River Watch makes every attempt to help those involved reach a mutual agreement. However, the judge decides the severity of the violations, as well as decides if the violations are, or already have been, addressed. The judge also determines the financial realities of any given lawsuit. Frivolous lawsuits remain just that-city attorneys have little difficulty in having them dismissed.
A recent settlement agreement was reached when a member or River Watch reported that a gas station's underground tank was leaking and contaminated their private well. River Watch's pro bono work enabled the landowner to get a new well, plus monies to cover losses from their business' earnings. River Watch's work also resulted in equipment being installed to clean up the underground water source for the entire area.
Another example of River Watch's desire to ensure healthful communities is how they are working with the municipality of Covelo whose wastewater treatment plant discharges into Grist Creek, a tributary of the Eel River. Covelo has agreed to address dangerous contamination problem with River Watch. Because of the Covelo's limited tax base River Watch has shouldered expenses and will seek no penalties. Covelo's defense lawyer Mr. Neary remarked that the legal counsel from River Watch had some "very good points". He also said he found Jack Silver's expertise to be valuable and that it is very clear that money is not what he is after.
For the record, all monies that River Watch receives go back into the communities from which they come. Past and present monies received from mutually agreed upon mitigation funds go to nonprofit organizations. Legal actions have funded a variety of environmental groups and projects in areas where contamination has occurred. Recently the city of Santa Rosa agreed to contribute $120,000 for environmental and educational project grants for the violations of the city's Laguna Subregional Treatment Plant. A few of the ten groups that are benefactors include the Atascadero Creek and Green Valley Creek Watershed Council for implementing educational programs at Oak Grove Elementary School, The Blucher Creek Watershed Council for funding a sediment and erosion study, and the Sotoyome Resource Conservation District for creating public workshops around water conservation.
In the interest of public health and safety, River Watch is a just organization that seeks to right industries and municipalities who are lax in their desire to comply with the Clean Water Act. River Watch believes citizens and their communities have the right to healthy, clean water and they are not waiting around for a 10 million-dollar public works, pie-in-the-sky miracle to fix the wrongs of heedless development.
Lynn Hamilton Program Manager and River Watch Board of Directors