Saturday, 25 May 2024

Riviera West Mutual Water hit with $3.9 million state fine

View Larger Map KELSEYVILLE – The state has issued a $3,945,000 fine against a local private water company, alleging that the company failed to submit required monitoring reports for several years in violation of its permit.


The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board's just-retired assistant executive officer, Jack DelConte, issued the administrative civil penalties against Riviera West Mutual Water Co.'s drinking water treatment plant in a Nov. 21 letter to Jim Snodgrass, the water company's president.


In December, the regional water board issued a public statement announcing the fines on the system.


It's one of the highest fines the state has assessed for this type of penalty, said Wendy Wyels, environmental program manager with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.


Riviera West Mutual Water serves the Riviera West Homeowners Association, which includes 500 total lots and 250 homes over a few hundred acres. The subdivision was created in 1969, according to association officials.


The company is required under the conditions of its permit to submit monitoring reports on the discharge of effluent from its drinking water plant, according to Wyels. Those reports are designed to show whether or not the waste has been treated adequately to comply with the permit conditions.


The complaint against the company states that monitoring reports were not regularly turned in between Jan. 1, 2004, and July 1, 2007.


The water company takes its drinking water from Clear Lake and runs it through a treatment program, said Wyels. Any solids, sludge and other waste materials are then settled out and discharged.


The company's permit allows for discharging those solids directly back into Clear Lake as long as they're within certain limits, Wyels said.


"They tell us they have not been discharging into Clear Lake for a couple of years, but they have not been submitting monitoring reports so we have no verification," said Wyels.


Wyels said the company turned in one report in March 2004 which showed that they exceeded effluent limits.


The regional water board placed a cease and desist order on Riviera West Mutual Water in 2002 after it was discovered that no monitoring reports had been submitted from June 1996 through May 2002, said Wyels.


That order required the water company immediately start monitoring to comply with their permit, Wyels said.


"We're looking to see what they're putting into Clear Lake will not impact the beneficial uses of Clear Lake," she said.


Company officials told the state that they're now discharging the wastes on a land area near the lake, she added.


Wyels said the company told the state that their personnel had changed which is why the reports had not been made.


In December Riviera West Mutual Water retained Melissa Thorme of the Sacramento-based firm Downey Brand Attorneys LLP to represent them in the matter.


Thorme told Lake County News she hasn't been able to speak with the plant's operator who was responsible for filing the reports during the three years noted in the citation. That's because that person is no longer employed by the company.


She said she believes Riviera West Mutual Water Co. is now complying with its permits and the enforcement order.


Originally, the fines were set for a hearing before the regional board on Feb. 5 and 6. However, Thorme said the company waived the need for a hearing that by state law must be held within 90 days of the citation's issuance.


Thorme said she and water company officials will meet with the state later this month to discuss the situation, including how the fines must be paid. Wyels confirmed that the meeting date is Jan. 20.


In 2004, state law changed to make fines for noncompliance with monitoring requirements mandatory, said Wyels.


California Water Code now requires a mandatory minimum penalty of $3,000 for each 30-day period in which a report was not submitted.


That leaves little wiggle room when it comes to what kind of arrangements can be worked out, a point on which both Wyels and Thorme agree.


"The problem with mandatory minimum penalties is they're mandatory," said Thorme, who added she didn't think the state Legislature foresaw these kinds of situations when they changed the rules.


“This is a huge amount of money for a small community, but this is a mandatory thing under the California Water Code,” said Wyels.


Putting another wrinkle in the situation is that the permit for discharge that Riviera West Mutual Water is alleged to have violated by not making its monitoring reports has expired, Wyels said.


"Legally they shouldn't be discharging," she said.


Wyels said the company's officials just came in this week with an application to renew the permit.


Riviera West Mutual Water is proposing in the new permit to only discharge the plant's effluent to a land area. “Right now they have a permit to discharge to the lake and they don't want to do that anymore, so we need to get a new permit that actually jives with what they're doing,” said Thorme.


Wyels said mandatory penalties don't apply to land permits. The regional water board could still levy penalties, but it would be a matter of the board's staff assessing the fines based on the size of the community and other factors.


The company would still have to monitor its discharge and show that it doesn't run off into Clear Lake, said Wyels, noting the regional water board is concerned about the land where the company proposes to deposit the solids, because it's a hilly area close to the lake.


First, however, the company and the regional water board need to settle the citation and the fines.


Wyels said the fine is one of the highest they've given out. That was one of the reasons the regional water board didn't see the need to go back farther and assign fines for the pre-2004 violations. “We wish we didn't have to do this.”


Thorme, who is a specialist in water system compliance issues, said, “For the size of the district, it's huge.”


Resolving the citation and settling payment of the fines will depend on how the meetings between Riviera West Mutual Water Co. and the regional water board.


“That's what we're going to have to muddle through,” Thorme said.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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