Tag Archives: Clean Water Act

Citing distrust, conflict of interest, Rio Vista City Council rejects city’s legal counsel’s bid to *also* represent California Forever

[From the article: “It’s not David vs. Goliath, […] [it’s] David vs. an aircraft carrier.”]

California Forever’s first foray into Solano County politics was all about water. It didn’t end well

A former beach, lower left, has washed out and been overtaken by brush and algae at the closed Brannan Island State Recreation Area near Rio Vista, Calif., in 2022. The city’s lawyers approached its council Tuesday to ask if they could also represent California Forever, a group proposing a new city near Rio Vista, in water rights issues. |
Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle.
San Francisco Chronicle, by J. K. Dinner, October 3, 2023

For the first time since their plan to build a city in Solano County became public, representatives of California Forever went to a local government and asked for permission to do something.

For the billionaire city-builders, it was a big-time bust.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday evening, the City Council of Rio Vista — a charming delta town of 10,000 that would be the closest city to where the new metropolis would sprout from dry farmland — rejected the idea that it would allow the city’s outside legal counsel to also represent California Forever, the developer’s parent company.

The law firm of Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard, which has provided legal counsel to Rio Vista since 2011 — most small California cities hire outside firms rather than fund their own legal departments — had asked the city council for permission to also represent California Forever in its process of securing the water rights for the still unnamed, built-from-scratch city.

It was a resounding no.

While the vote was small potatoes in the context of a group that has spent $800 million on purchasing 50,000 acres and is determined to spend billions more to create America’s next great city, it demonstrated the political obstacles that California Forever will need to clear as it tries to convince the majority of Solano County of the wisdom of a project that would transform a corner of the Bay Area still mostly made up of farms and small towns like Rio Vista.

In its request, the firm, KMTG, promised it would create a separation between lawyers working for the city of Rio Vista and those helping California Forever secure water rights for a new city that could become home to 100,000 residents or more.

KMTG attorney Olivia Clark said that if any conflict arose the firm would represent the city, and not the developer. She said KMTG’s expertise in Solano County development issues, and water rights, could be a benefit to Rio Vista.

“We bring a lot of experience and institutional knowledge — that unique background will help both entities moving forward … rather than California Forever finding some hotshot L.A. firm to phone it in,” she said. “I think it’s better to know your neighbor and know they have competent legal counsel representing them. … What’s the cliche? It’s better to know your adversary than take a gamble.”

Founded in 1959, KMTG is recognized statewide for its water rights and water resources law expertise, advising clients on laws and regulations that govern water use in California. Water rights and use are key considerations in California Forever’s development plans in eastern Solano County. | Image from californiaforever.com.

In a memo on the topic, KMTG partner Mona Ebrahimi said there was “no present conflict between California Forever and Rio Vista” in terms of water rights, but she allowed that there might be down the road.

“The concern is that Rio Vista might oppose California Forever’s efforts to orchestrate water supplies for future land-use projects and might oppose California Forever’s efforts to obtain land-use approvals allowing such projects,” she wrote.

Currently, Rio Vista relies on groundwater pumped from the Solano Subbasin of the Sacramento Valley Groundwater Basin. Although, if that resource is depleted, it could put the city in conflict with the water sources California Forever is looking toward, including the Sacramento River.

But neighbors were not convinced, and neither were elected officials.

After public comment in which all of a dozen or so Rio Vista residents urged the council to reject the idea, the five member body quickly put the kibosh on the request.

Resident Kenny Paul said allowing the firm to represent both sides would “put the city in a bad position.”

“We are not going to be able to stop Flannery, ultimately, but do we extend a hand to them in welcome or do we say, ‘No thanks? ’ ” said Paul. “The fact that they would go after the same counsel we have, who are experts in water rights fights, just speaks to their continued bad faith.”

Resident Bill Mortimore said the law may be well-intentioned but that ultimately there will be conflict “when Flannery comes in and throws a half a billion on the table.”

“Our legal representatives have good intentions, but money talks. I can picture a conflict arising and them walking in with a checkbook,” he said.

Jeannie McCormack, a third generation rancher who rejected Flannery’s efforts of a buy-out of her family’s 3,700-acre ranch, warned against the firm’s request. She said California Forever’s current legal representation — Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP — would provide plenty of legal firepower without also enlisting Rio Vista’s lawyers.

“They have a very high-falutin and well-known legal firm … they don’t need anyone else,” she said. “They will try to weaken Rio Vista and we won’t know what their aims are because they are very closed-mouthed.”

Former Solano County Supervisor and project opponent Duane Kromm said the vote was significant because KMTG is one of the few firms that knows Solano County water rights issues inside and out.

“There is a limited subset of law firms highly specialized in California water rights,” he said.

He said the lopsided dynamic of the fight over the future of eastern Solano County would continue to test the small cities in the area.

“It’s not David vs. Goliath,” he said. “It’s David vs. an aircraft carrier.”

California Forever did not respond to a request for comment.

This and more stories on the Flannery land grab: https://beniciaindependent.com/tags/flannery-associates/

Travis Air Force Base ordered to address dishonorable discharges

[BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian – Here’s more on the latest EPA action in Solano County, this time at Travis Air Force Base. Travis AFB’s 6,368-acre site is located in Fairfield, California. Cheeky headlines aside, jet fuel spilling into creeks and contaminating groundwater is no joke. These spills represent a tremendous danger most immediately to Union Creek’s delicate ecosystem and could create public health impacts down the road. – N.C.]

EPA Orders U.S. Air Force to Address Oil Discharge at Travis Air Force Base

May 4, 2023

Contact Information: John Senn (senn.john@epa.gov)

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued an emergency order to the U.S. Air Force to enhance and expedite measures to address an ongoing oil discharge into Union Creek from the Travis Air Force Base (Travis AFB) in Solano County, Calif. EPA has determined that a substantial threat exists to local waterbodies and shorelines because of the ongoing discharge and previous similar incidents on Travis AFB.

“This order is critical for ensuring that the Air Force addresses the oil discharge into Union Creek in a thorough and timely manner, and that no impacts to public health occur,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “EPA is committed to fully utilizing our authorities to make sure that the current oil discharge is stopped and similar incidents are prevented.”

The order, issued under the Clean Water Act, compels the Air Force take a series of steps to mitigate the oil discharge, including:

  • Utilizing oil spill recovery equipment and techniques to limit the spread of oil in Union Creek;
  • Investigating and mitigating the source of the oil;
  • Collecting and analyzing water and sediment samples in Union Creek; and
  • Implementing actions to prevent oil from entering the storm drain and creek.

The order also requires the Air Force to enter into a unified command structure that brings together the oil spill response expertise of federal, state and local governments to address the discharge. Agencies actively engaged in the response include EPA, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, and Solano County.

Oil discharges to Union Creek from Travis AFB were first identified by the Air Force as early as October 2021, but were not reported to EPA or the National Response Center until February 4, 2022. Since that time, the Air Force has made numerous notifications to the National Response Center regarding an oil sheen on Union Creek, including reporting a spill of jet fuel from a pipeline on the base on August 4, 2022. These spill notifications have continued to occur in 2023. EPA analyses of samples collected from the pipeline spill area and from the sheen on Union Creek indicate the contamination at both areas are likely from a common source. On December 21, 2022, the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Control Board sent the Air Force a notice of noncompliance for discharges of jet fuel to Union Creek.

The Air Force has yet to take action to identify and address the source of the oil discharge to Union Creek. The initial oil spill response efforts implemented by the Air Force at Travis AFB were limited, and these efforts were only upgraded after input from EPA and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

Learn more about EPA’s work at Travis Air Force Base.

Learn more about EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region. Connect with us on Facebook and on Twitter.

SF CHRONICLE: Pits of drilling waste threaten water, air safety, report charges

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor: Significant quote: “The report says there are 790 active pits in California and that 60 percent of them have out-of-date permits or no permit at all. Monitoring of the pits, which allow toxic substances in the water to percolate into the ground, is inadequate, and regulations are ineffective, according to the report.”  – RS]

Pits of drilling waste threaten water, air safety, report charges

Dumped oil, gas byproduct hazardous, watchdog says
By Peter Fimrite, March 7, 2016
Traffic moves along the road as pumpjacks operate at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield in this January 2015 file photo. Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP / AP
Traffic moves along the road as pumpjacks operate at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield in this January 2015 file photo. Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP / AP

Hundreds of open pits containing toxic waste produced by oil and gas drilling are threatening groundwater in California, and regulators have failed to protect drinking and irrigation water supplies from the danger, an environmental watchdog group concludes in a report set to be released Monday.

Oil industry leaders deny that the pits, which are primarily in the Central Valley, have contaminated any groundwater. But the report by Clean Water Action argues that oversight of the waste is so flimsy that the state should immediately prohibit disposal of wastewater in the evaporation pits.

“The oil and gas industry continues to dump toxic wastewater into open waste pits, and that’s threatening, and potentially polluting, groundwater,” said the report’s author, Andrew Grinberg, the special projects coordinator for Clean Water Action, an Oakland nonprofit.

‘Highest standards’

“It’s appalling that the wealthiest industry in the history of civilization can’t deal with its wastewater in a more responsible way,” he said. “State regulators should prohibit this disposal method.”

The report says there are 790 active pits in California and that 60 percent of them have out-of-date permits or no permit at all. Monitoring of the pits, which allow toxic substances in the water to percolate into the ground, is inadequate, and regulations are ineffective, according to the report.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said the report’s findings were “simply false.”

She said water disposal practices are monitored and tested by multiple state and local agencies, including the State Department of Conservation, the State Water Resources Control Board and local water quality boards.

“California’s energy producers operate under the nation’s most rigorous laws and regulations, which ensure transparency, accountability and the highest standards,” Reheis-Boyd said. “We outright reject these allegations and rely upon scientific data and our safety record to demonstrate the safe manner in which we operate every day.”

Disposal of oil and gas drilling wastewater is a big issue in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, where most of California’s petroleum production takes place. Kern County is the top oil-producing area in the state, but disposal of waste is also a concern in parts of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, which have been major oil producers since the early 1900s, when the demand for gasoline began growing.

Oil drillers suck up 15 barrels of water for every barrel of oil they reap. If the water is clean enough, it can be treated and used for irrigation, but most of it contains salt, boron, petroleum and other toxic substances that can poison groundwater and kill birds.

The recommended way to get rid of it is to inject it into the ground, preferably into the oil-bearing formation or deep enough so that it won’t seep into an aquifer. For many years, though, standard practice was to dump the water into a pit so that it would evaporate or percolate into the ground. Grinberg said many permits were issued for the pits in the 1950s and 1960s.

No toxic substances found

The report highlighted contamination near disposal facilities known as Racetrack Hills and Fee 34 east of Bakersfield, with a plume of wastewater spreading into an aquifer that supplies irrigation wells and flows into a tributary of the Kern River, a source of drinking water. However, toxic substances have not been detected in drinking water or in wells.

Air monitoring around a western Kern County pond known as the McKittrick Pit detected elevated levels of methane and the compounds benzene and hexanone, according to the report.

“Every year since 1990 it was monitored and inspectors saw it was in violation, but there was no enforcement action,” Grinberg said of McKittrick, adding that the California Air Resources Board is developing plans to monitor air emissions around open pits.

Clay Rodgers, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in Fresno, said operators of both the Racetrack and McKittrick pits have been ordered to expand their monitoring.

“We’re looking at it closely to evaluate whether that series of pits is appropriate,” Rodgers said, explaining that evaporation ponds have gone out of favor in the past two decades. “A lot of these pits have closed down, and now most of the water is disposed of through underground injection.”

In a 2014 report, Clean Water Action presented evidence that the pit technique threatened groundwater and air quality. The state and regional water quality control boards have since stepped up research and enforcement, which the new report noted.

California lawmakers have passed legislation in recent years compelling operators to monitor their wastewater pits and report their findings to the state. Open-pit disposal was also prohibited in hydraulic fracturing operations, known as fracking.

Inaction charged

Grinberg said that while progress has been made, the regional water quality boards are still allowing discharges that threaten groundwater. The Central Valley board has failed to close facilities with open pits or punish companies with no permits, he said.

The report being released Monday also says no studies have been done on 2,074 inactive pits dating back to 1990 that the state has in its inventory, and that the records on these pits are incomplete. Over the past year, Grinberg said, 50 previously undocumented pits have been identified.

“The more they look, the more they are finding,” he said. “This is one negative aspect of oil production. Putting groundwater at additional risk is potentially catastrophic. These polluting activities we don’t believe are worth it, especially during a drought.”

US House approves $279 million renewable energy cut; raises funding for fossil fuel research by $34 million

Press Release from Friends of the Earth
[Editor:  As you might expect, this travesty was passed on a nearly complete party line vote, with 230 Republicans and 10 Dems in favor.  Dems voting FOR the bill included:  A. Dutch Ruppersberger MD, Ami Bera CA, Brad Ashford NE, Collin Peterson MN, Doris Matsui CA, Filemon Vela TX, Gene Green TX, Henry Cuellar TX, Jim Costa CA, and William Keating MA.  Republicans voting AGAINST the bill included: Christopher Gibson NY, James Sensenbrenner Jr. WI, Joseph Heck NV, Justin Amash MI, Mo Brooks AL, Thomas Massie KY, Walter Jones Jr. NC.   Track the bill here.  – RS]

House approves $279 million renewable energy cut

By: Kate Colwell, May. 1, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2028, “The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016,” by a vote of 240-177.

The bill sets funding levels for important programs within the U.S. Departments of Energy, Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers. While staying within the limits set by the sequester, the bill manages to raise funding for fossil fuel research by $34 million from 2015 levels while cutting renewable energy and efficiency research by $279 million. Simultaneously, it is packed with policy riders that undermine bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to study the dangers of hydraulic fracturing.

Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy Campaigner Lukas Ross issued the following statement in response:

Shoveling more of our tax dollars into the pockets of ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers while defunding clean energy is climate denial at its worst. Fossil fuel interests don’t need more money. Solutions to the climate crisis do.

From hobbling the Clean Water Act to limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to even study fracking, House Speaker John Boehner is continuing his assault on the air we breathe and the water we drink.


Expert contact: Lukas Ross, (202) 222-0724, lross@foe.org
Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org