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United States v. Alisal Water Corp.

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20227
Nos. No. C-97-20099-JF (EAI), 114 F. Supp. 2d 927/51 ERC 1461/(N.D. Cal., 09/15/2000)

The court holds that the owners and operators of public water systems in California violated the national primary drinking water regulations for microbiological contaminants, lead, and copper contained in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and holds them individually liable for those violations. The court first holds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has standing to bring the suit because the relevant state department of health formally requested that EPA file a civil and/or criminal suit against the water systems operators for violating the SDWA. The court next holds that documents seized at the lab are admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The court also holds that the samples relied on by EPA to show violations of the national primary drinking water regulations were routine, and not special, samples. The court further holds that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that the public water systems did not have a written plan ensuring that representative samples would be taken throughout the system in violation of SDWA regulations. The court additionally holds that although EPA's correspondence with the owners and operators of the systems were not models of clarity, confusing statements do not rise to the level of affirmative misconduct necessary to assert an estoppel defense against the United States. The court finally holds that the owners and operators of the systems are individually liable for violations of the SDWA. Nothing in the SDWA or in cases interpreting environmental statutes suggests that Congress intended persons directly responsible for violations to be shielded from liability because they were employed by or acting on behalf of a corporation that actually owned the water systems. Here, the United States introduced sufficient evidence to hold the owners and operators liable on the basis of their personal conduct that directly violated the regulations at issue.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Karen Dworkin
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Stephan A. Barber
Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley
80 N. First St., San Jose CA 95113
(408) 287-6262