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Editorial: Wait to debate water bond, and improve it - The Sacramento Bee

Both chambers have produced legislation to rescind and scale back the bloated $11.14 billion water bond that, if left unchanged, would head to the ballot in 2014 and face certain defeat.
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Water district moves forward with repair project

The South Coast Water District will seek board approval to spend $48,465 for a consultant to write applications for a loan to help fund a sewer tunnel stabilization project, a district staff report...
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Pasadena, Sylmar firms to design, build first segment of California high-speed rail line

Two Southland firms will be involved in the design and construction of the first leg of California’s 800-mile, high-speed rail system.Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar and Parsons Corp.
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High-Speed Rail: What's the Hold-Up?

If you're a rail travel proponent, there's good news and there's bad news when it comes to high-speed trains.
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Nancy Pelosi ensures transit center on solid ground

House Minority Leader and hometown girl Nancy Pelosi visited San Francisco's biggest hole in the ground Thursday and helped start filling it in.
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CV Water District to receive about $22.7 million in federal lawsuit over gasoline additive in groundwater

Nearly six years after filing a federal lawsuit against seven companies and their related counterparts for allegedly contaminating the local groundwater supply with a gasoline additive, the Crescenta Valley Water District has finally settled with...
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Groundwater Issues and Water Management Conference -- March 4-5, 2014 - Sacramento, CA

Groundwater Issues and Water Management Conference -- March 4-5, 2014 - Sacramento, CA
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BART, unions remain far apart on contract

"The problem with negotiations has not been the number of meetings, it is the unrealistic nature of the union proposals," said Tom Radulovich, president of the BART Board of Directors.
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Construction firms hit hiring crunch - San Francisco Business Times

Close to three-fourths of construction companies are having a difficult time finding...
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Post-nuclear power grid takes shape

Post-nuclear power grid takes shape | Friday Newsfeed | Scoop.it
Generators at retired San Onofre nuclear plant could help meet regional power demands.
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EDITORIAL: $16 million grant in hand, mayor must connect dots | Editorials | FresnoBee.com

Mayor Ashley Swearengin has done a fine job of convincing federal officials and private investors that a $16 million grant to restore traffic to the Fulton Mall and preserve the world-class public art there will help revitalize downtown.
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Crews Start Pouring Foundation For New Transbay Transit Center - CBS San Francisco

Workers started pouring the foundation for San Francisco’s new Transbay Transit Center on Thursday, the latest milestone in the transformation of the Bay Area’s transportation landscape.
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HSR lawsuit hearing set for Nov. 8

HANFORD — Kings County officials will be back in court in November after an initial victory in their lawsuit against the California High-Speed Rail Authority on Aug. 16.
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PG&E opens new gas pipeline control center in San Ramon

In an upgrade prompted by the deadly San Bruno gas pipeline blast, PG&E has opened a $38 million state-of-the-art complex in San Ramon that is now the nerve center for the utilitys far-flung and closely scrutinized natural gas system.
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Rail car maker Kinkisharyo moving headquarters to El Segundo

Rail car maker Kinkisharyo moving headquarters to El Segundo | Friday Newsfeed | Scoop.it
Kinkisharyo International Inc., the No. 1 supplier of low-floor light rail vehicles in North America, is moving its U.S.
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Another fair decision by the state water board | Phil Dirkx | SanLuisObispo.com

Sacramento is keeping an eye on the Paso Robles groundwater basin. I hope you saw the article in the Aug. 24 Tribune. The headline said, “State water agency urges action in Paso.” Maybe the state can help.
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Orange County Coastkeeper, a non-profit organization working to protect and preserve marine habitats and watersheds

Orange County Coastkeeper seeks to ensure clean waterways, harbors and coastal waters, and work with agencies, industry and the public to provide a safe, consistent, and adequate water supply.
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New report details billion-dollar markets in Climate Change Adaptation | Press Releases | Eco-Business - Asia's Cleantech & Sustainable Business Community

Asia Pacific news, jobs, directory, events for the cleantech & green business community. Clean energy, carbon, CSR, green buildings, water, waste, eco-cities.
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Court fight over water is complex, not always civil

SANTA ANA – Judge Nancy Wieben Stock’s spacious courtroom is brimming with lawyers. Lawyers fill the jury box, the spectator gallery, and two rows of tables. A quick count finds 38 lawyers in the room, plus 10 more participating via conference call. They have assembled for a status conference in a lawsuit formally known as Orange County Water District vs. Sabic Innovative Plastics et al., and commonly referred to as “the south basin case.”

Stock orchestrates the proceedings on this April afternoon with scholarly calm, hearing arguments, requests, and motions from attorneys representing some of the more than 30 defendants, each with its own set of facts and standing with respect to the six causes of action enumerated in the water district’s first amended complaint.

 WHY IT MATTERS

If the Orange County Water District fails to persuade the courts to require industrial landowners to pay for the cleanup of what the OCWD says are moving plumes of groundwater contamination, the cost of multi-decade cleanup projects could be passed on to the 19 municipalities and special districts to which OCWD supplies groundwater. The OCWD currently assesses those districts $276 per acre-foot of water; the cost of cleanup could increase that assessment by $230 per acre foot over a period of years, the OCWD says. The 19 districts would likely pass along the added cost to retail users – residents and businesses.

However, some property owners, who have already spent millions to clean up contamination under the direction of other government agencies, have questioned the OCWD's right to sue them. So far, the courts have mostly sided with the property owners.

    Players in a water war

The Orange County Water District is in a massive legal battle with more than 30 companies that own or have owned property in Santa Ana where a "commingled plume" has contaminated groundwater. The outcome of these cases could determine whether water bills nearly double for ratepayers in 19 municipal and special water districts in north and central Orange County that use groundwater managed by OCWD.

Here is a list of water districts whose customers could be affected:

Seal Beach

Golden State Water Co.

Huntington Beach

Westminster

Fountain Valley

Garden Grove

Mesa Water District (formerly called Mesa Consolidated Water District)

Newport Beach

Irvine Ranch Water District

Santa Ana

Tustin

East Orange County Water District

Orange

Anaheim

La Palma

Buena Park

Fullerton

Yorba Linda Water District

Serrano Water District

    

This is a case about contamination in the groundwater aquifer that supplies 2.3 million residents of Orange County. Specifically, it is about chemicals used in manufacturing that, over the decades, seeped through the soil beneath southern Santa Ana.

The defendants are companies that own, or have owned, properties near where the 55 freeway crosses Dyer Road. They are accused by the water district of having contributed to the contamination, which has merged under the properties and forms a “commingled plume,” the district says.

Are these companies actually responsible for the contributing to the contamination? And, if so, how much should each have to pay to clean up the merged plume? Perhaps because the contamination at issue is not a near-term threat to tap water, this lawsuit and a related “north basin case” have proceeded mostly in obscurity for years.

Yet there is a lot of money at stake in the two cases – more than $200 million. Officials at the Orange County Water District say they are fighting in the public’s interest. The outcome of these cases could determine whether water bills nearly double for ratepayers in 19 municipal and special water districts in north and central Orange County that use groundwater managed by OCWD.

Defense attorneys, on the other hand, suggest the water district’s lawsuits are motivated mainly by greed.

Long history of lawsuits

Litigation over water in Orange County began before there was an Orange County.

Perhaps the first major case was Anaheim Water Co. vs. Semi-Tropical Water Co., a fight over Santa Ana River water, in 1877. Twelve years later, Orange County was formed, splitting off from Los Angeles County.

Orange County Water District was formed in 1933 to take over litigation against upstream users of Santa Ana River water who were draining the river dry.

The case dragged on until 1942, and the underlying dispute wasn’t finally settled until 1969, said Roy Herndon, chief hydrogeologist at OCWD.

“Water is a very precious commodity, and water rights have been litigated for centuries,” Herndon said.

Orange County was mostly agricultural until after World War II. Then aerospace companies and other manufacturers began to buy land and build plants. OCWD’s current lawsuits allege that industrial processes led, over several decades, to contamination of the groundwater.

These lawsuits are different from the early fights over water rights. This time, the disputes are over who is responsible for the moving plumes of contamination, and that’s where it gets tricky.

Prior cleanup

Before they were sued by the water district, some of the defendants already had paid millions to remove contaminants from groundwater under the auspices of other government agencies.

For example, Santa Ana’s Gallade Chemical, founded 49 years ago, has been working with two regulators – the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Santa Ana Regional Water Control Board — for nearly 25 years since contamination was discovered under its property in 1989, CEO Richard Gallade said.

The company built a “state-of-the-art system for remediating” the water beneath its property, Gallade said. Then, in 2008, without warning, Gallade Chemical was sued by OCWD.

Since then, Gallade estimates he’s spent $100,000 to $125,000 per month on attorney fees and other costs to fight the OCWD suit.

“The time and millions of dollars that I have spent on litigation over the past five years could have been focused instead on completing our remediation project,” Gallade told the state Senate Environmental Quality Committee in May. “Millions of dollars we spent in courts and attorneys and consultants to deal with the lawsuit rather than dealing with our sites and cleaning up our sites.”

Why, then, were Gallade and other firms sued?

“Despite the efforts of regulatory agencies, plumes had left the properties,” the OCWD’s Herndon said. “Now they’re mixed. Now they’re commingled. Somebody’s plume has left and mingled with somebody else’s.”

The regulatory agencies were hamstrung, because their authority to order remediation only extends to individual properties, he said.

“Somebody’s got to pay to clean these plumes,” said longtime OCWD board member Denis Bilodeau: either “the people who polluted the ground or the ratepayers.

“How else do you make corporations come to the table unless you file suit?” Bilodeau asked.

The lawsuits are the fruit of a partnership between the water district and a firm of trial lawyers. The Sacramento firm of Miller, Axline & Sawyer is representing the water district on a contingency basis, meaning that if the water district doesn’t win damages, the lawyers don’t get paid.

Defendants grumble that the district’s strategy amounts to taking a risk-free whack at deep pockets.

“In our opinion, the district was seduced by the siren of easy riches,” defense attorney John Van Vlear said. “Since it was a contingency fee deal, OCWD had little to lose by suing everyone in the region.”

Bilodeau argues that the contingency arrangement has been a good one for ratepayers, saving the district millions in legal fees. Meanwhile, the district has obtained more than $23 million in settlements from the two suits.

Yet in court, the district’s legal theories have so far failed to persuade judges.

‘Fiction and charades’

In Judge Stock’s courtroom, there is talk of motions in limine, of proposed orders, of tentative rulings and of cross-complaints. She listens respectfully to an array of attorneys and appears in complete control of the sprawling maze of litigation before her. Her occasional witty remark provokes laughter amid the otherwise unremitting seriousness.

Early in June, Stock discusses with lawyers a looming deadline in the south basin case: a mandate under state law that a trial must begin within five years after a lawsuit is filed.

All that’s needed is to swear in one witness, a lawyer for the water district argues. Then the trial could be recessed indefinitely, until the parties were truly ready, according to a state Supreme Court ruling cited by Justin Massey, a Miller, Axline attorney.

“You have the California Supreme Court case declaring that fictions and charades are OK,” Stock replies. “Interesting read.”

On June 21 – two days before the five-year deadline – the trial commences with the swearing in of Herndon as the first witness. He testifies for a few minutes about his education and experience. Then Stock recesses the proceedings for a few weeks.

On July 9, the trial began for real. On Aug. 2, Stock ruled that the district’s claims were unsupported by the evidence.

Now, seven of the defendants can seek to have their court costs reimbursed by the district. That will cost the district millions, said attorney Jeffrey Ring, who represents Gallade Chemical.

“If I were a water district customer, I’d be asking long, hard questions about why I’m paying for this debacle,” Ring said.

The north basin case, focused on groundwater beneath Fullerton and Anaheim, went to trial in similar fashion in February 2012, then took a six-week hiatus. Closing arguments occurred in September 2012. In May, Judge Kim Dunning issued a stinging decision, finding against the district. The next phase of the trial has yet to be scheduled.

There will be appeals in both cases. If the Court of Appeals doesn’t reverse the Superior Court judges, the water district may have to bill its customers for the proposed cleanup, estimated at $230 million over several decades.

 

Contact the writer: agalvin1@msn.com

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REGULATORS, UTILITIES EYE PLANS TO INCREASE POWER

Responding to the retirement of the San Onofre nuclear plant, energy authorities are closing in on California’s solution for ensuring power supplies to San Diego and the Los Angeles Basin, outlining a plan that will come under scrutiny Monday in...
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Environmental Group Opposes Current Bayfront Substation Plan

The Environmental Health Coalition has issued a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission urging underground power lines for the Chula Vista bay front substation.
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Jerry Brown: How the California Governor Turned Around the Golden State | Politics News | Rolling Stone

The 75-year-old governor rescued the Golden State from financial ruin - and is reshaping a national progressive agenda
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