Clover Flat Landfill outside Calistoga is facing a federal lawsuit claiming that it has discharged polluted stormwater in violation of the Clean Water Act of 1972.
The suit was filed Aug. 16 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, a Stockton-based nonprofit.
A crane sorts trash at Clover Flat Landfill.
According to the lawsuit, members of the CSPA use the Napa River and other San Francisco Bay tributaries “to fish, boat, kayak, bird watch, view wildlife, and engage in scientific study including monitoring activities, among other things.”
“Defendant’s discharges of storm water containing pollutants threaten or impair each of these uses or contribute to such threats and impairments,” the lawsuit states.
The suit claims that Clover Flat has discharged polluted stormwater runoff into an unnamed creek adjacent to the landfill that flows into the Napa River, in violation of the Clean Water Act and a statewide General Permit pertaining to industrial stormwater discharges.
The runoff includes stormwater that falls on trucks and other equipment near the landfill’s public drop-off area and comes into contact with waste before draining into a drop inlet, according to the CSPA.
The suit claims that stormwater samples collected by Clover Flat in 2021 exceeded permitted limits of total suspended solids, iron, aluminum, and N+N (nitrate plus nitrite).
The Napa County Planning Commission talked about Clover Flat Landfill.
The complaint also claims that the landfill's consultant detected PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as forever chemicals — in surface water a half-mile downstream of the landfill.
Attorneys for Clover Flat issued the following statement Tuesday responding to the lawsuit.
"Since February of this year, Clover Flat Landfill has been engaged in ongoing discussions to resolve issues alleged by California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) regarding the Industrial General Permit. Following a site inspection, CSPA proposed a resolution of the issues, but that resolution implicated ongoing oversight by various agencies. Some of the issues require approval by the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s staff.
“Because the process of monitoring and reporting water quality is an ongoing process, CSPA decided to file a lawsuit while Regional Board’s staff is considering various proposals by Clover Flat to ensure even greater water quality monitoring processes and, ultimately, greater water quality for the entire watershed. It is anticipated that the CSPA lawsuit will be resolved amicably in the very near future after further guidance is provided by staff at the Regional Board.”
The CSPA’s lawsuit seeks a court order preventing Clover Flat from discharging polluted stormwater and requiring the landfill to implement stormwater pollution controls, additional monitoring, and a new Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan.
The lawsuit also asks the court to impose civil penalties of $59,973 per day per violation. It does not specify a total amount.
The legal action comes as Clover Flat tries to rectify
county code violations from 2019 and incorporate existing roads, basins, storage areas and stockpiles into its legal footprint. Operations would remain the same, except for the addition of Monday gate hours for self-haulers. Consultants are preparing an environmental impact report.
The landfill has come under heavy fire from critics who cite pollution and fire hazards. A group called
Whatawastenv.org filed suit last October seeking additional environmental study of the landfill’s operations. At the time, an attorney for the company that operates the landfill dismissed that lawsuit as meritless. Napa Valley Register reporter Barry Eberling contributed to this report.
A crane sorts trash at Clover Flat Landfill.
Places in the US that don't have access to clean water
Flint, Michigan, is the ongoing site on an infamous public health disaster due to its rampant lead pipe problem. Congress banned lead plumping more than 30 years ago, but millions of American homes still have lead service lines, including an estimated 29,000 in Flint, which would cost more than $140 million to replace. Since the city switched its water source in 2014, Flint's water has contained alarming levels of lead. Water contaminated with 5,000 ppb of lead is deemed hazardous waste by the EPA; Flint's water tested as high as 13,200 ppb. Local, state and federal government took years to respond to the crisis, and some government employees faced criminal charges such as involuntary manslaughter, neglect and conspiracy for trying to cover up the lead contamination problem.
While places like Flint, Michigan, have made national headlines for their water issues, other major cities have managed to fly under the radar with unhealthy water. Take Pittsburgh, for example, where an estimated 17,000 homes served by the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority have lead service lines, leading to dangerous lead levels in drinking water. In February 2019, the Pennsylvania attorney general filed 161 criminal charges against the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority in violation of the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act.
Forty percent of people on the sprawling Navajo Nation lack running water. Residents rely on monthly bottled water deliveries for this necessity or make miles-long treks to local wells or watering holes. To get piped in water, they could join a waiting list that can take up to 15 years and must foot the bill of $12,000 themselves. Human rights non-profit DigDeep previously focused on water projects in Africa until its founder discovered the Navajo Nation's plight right here in America. It's now building water systems for hundreds of families.
East Chicago, Indiana
The water, soil and even the air in East Chicago, Indiana, are full of unsafe levels of lead and arsenic. That's because the city sits on the USS Lead Superfund site, home to a former lead ore refinery and one of the worst contaminated sites in the country. In 2016, more than 1,000 people living in the West Calumet Housing Complex where forced to leave their homes because of lead pollution. In 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted that federal and state officials repeatedly failed to protect residents despite knowing about the toxic pollution for more than three decades.
Airway Heights, Washington
In May 2017, the water supply for the Spokane suburb of Airway Heights became undrinkable due to tests by nearby Fairchild Air Force Base. Chemicals called polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) from firefighting foam and other products seeped into groundwater, potentially poisoning people for decades. PFAS is associated with cancer, fertility issues and other problems. The Air Force is footing the bill for a $2.6 million for a new filtration system. According to the Department of Defense, water supplies around 126 bases and the supplies on 36 bases themselves have been contaminated around the country.
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, destroying much of the country's infrastructure, including electricity, water and sewage systems. Loss of power interrupts the process at water treatment plants, and backed up sewage treatment sent raw sewage into waterways. More than a year later, some areas are experiencing infrequent water service and the public is distrustful of what's coming out of their pipes. Water safety was an issue for the island even before the storm. According to a National Resource Defense Council report, Puerto Rico had the worst rate of drinking water violations of any state or territory in the U.S. Nearly 3.4 million people there were served by water systems contaminated by lead and copper between January 1, 2015 and March 31, 2018.
Along with the city of Wolfforth, Brady, a small town in central Texas, received the most citations for water quality in the entire U.S. The pair of Texas cities are emblematic of troubled local water systems that serve small populations and struggle to find the means to combat contamination. Brady's water has almost double the legal limit set by the EPA of radium, a radioactive substance known to cause cancer. Local kids bring bottled water to school because the fountains aren't safe. The city has to raise $22 million to overhaul the water system and eliminate the contamination.
Skyrocketing water rates can leave American communities without the means to pay for water. For example, in Baltimore, Maryland, in the past decade, water rates have more than doubled in order to pay for repairs to the city's water infrastructure, resulting in what some have called a water affordability crisis. The United Nations standard is that no household should pay more than 3 percent of income for water service, but in 2016, Baltimore residents living on less than $25,000 a year were paying more than 3.6 percent of their income.
The rate of lead poisoning among children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is four times that of Flint, Michigan. Officials initially blame lead paint in older homes, but Milwaukee has almost 100,000 lead water service lines, almost half of the lines in the city, that would cost $750 million to replace. In 2016, Mayor Tom Barrett urged residents living in buildings constructed before 1951 to buy faucet filters to protect themselves.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas gets its drinking water from Lake Mead, and though now the water is safe to drink, in the 1990s, it was discovered that perchlorate, a chemical found in rocket fuel used at nearby manufacturers, was leaching into Lake Mead through groundwater. A 2009 study by the Environmental Working Group ranked Las Vegas drinking water among the worst in the nation thanks to a dozen pollutants at levels above EPA guidelines. Though it still has some of the "hardest" tap water in the country, Las Vegas has invested in its water infrastructure and extensive testing to guarantee its safety.
In 2008, the landfill in Uniontown, a small Alabama town of about 2,000 people, accepted 4 million tons of coal ash, which contains toxic levels of heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury. Citizens are concerned because there is a major risk that uncontained coal ash would ruin the groundwater quality. Apart from that, the town's water system is dangerously out of date and malfunctioning. It uses a waste treatment method called spray fields, which instead of dispersing waste into the soil has thousands of gallons of sewage overflowing into the nearby creek.
New York City, New York
While many rural locations are plagued by water problems, big city systems also have their fair share of issues, which can affect millions of people at once. New York City likes to brag about the quality of its drinking water, but even the "champagne of tap water" can be contaminated. According to Environmental Working Group, New York City's water system, which serves more than 9 million people, was in violation of EPA drinking water standards from October 2014 to September 2017. In 2019, the city was finally forced by federal suit to cover the open Hillview Reservoir, which has been illegal under the Safe Drinking Water Act for more than a decade. The city's treated water sits in open basins where it can easily be contaminated.
Martin County, Kentucky
In Martin County, Kentucky, and other similar Appalachian mining communities, water was contaminated by sewage and coal slurry spills, which contain dangerous heavy metals. In 2018, residents learned their water, which sometimes came out of the faucet brown and even black, had dangerous levels of trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids, chemicals associated with an increased risk of cancer. Martin County has received $3.4 million federal grants to fix its water system, though experts estimate it will take closer to $13.5 million to do so.
Suburban water systems are also affected by America's lacking water infrastructure. In Tacoma, Washington, a suburb of Seattle with more than 200,000 people, high lead levels were found in drinking water at multiple elementary schools as well as in the tap water in older area houses, affecting thousands. Prior to 2014, the water supply to Tacoma was unfiltered, allowing thousands of pounds of fine sediment into water pipes every day as well as the deadly parasite cryptosporidium.
Pretty Prairie, Kansas
Much like coal, the agricultural industry has created some toxic drinking water for certain rural communities. For more than 20 years, the water in Pretty Prairie, Kansas, has exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s legal limit for nitrates, which increase the risk of many kinds of cancer and can be deadly to children. For years, residents relied on bottled water. This contamination was caused by nitrogen-based fertilizers used for farming. In 2017, the town voted to spend $2.4 million to update their water system.
The residents of Tallulah, Louisiana, rely on bottled water to survive after the city's water plant failed in 2018, leading to a state of emergency. Before the outage, the city was already under a boil advisory as water, one of many in the last few years, due to suspected contamination. Residents claim water sometimes comes out green or brown, and in 2015, the bacteria coliform was found in the supply. Tallulah is one of many small Louisiana towns with outdated water systems and aging pipes and not enough money to pay for improvements.
A century of coal mining has left West Virginia's water system in shoddy shape, with the industry's waste and treatment chemicals leaking and leaching into the water supply. Across the Mountain State tap water has failed water quality test standards, having high levels of carcinogenic industrial metals and chemicals like Hexavalent Chromium 6. In 2014, a chemical spill in Elk River left 300,000 without water after 10,000 gallons of the mining chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, was found leaking into the water supply. The water was declared usable again without any tests of the effect of the unregulated chemical on people and their health.