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MONTEREY COUNTY WATER SUPPLIERS FACE DRINKING WATER PENALTIES
Release Date: 9/13/2000
Contact Information: Leo Kay, U.S. EPA, (415)-744-2201, Walter Wong, Monterey County Health Dept., (831)-755-4539, Ken August, California Dept. of Health Services, (916)-657-3064
Case is first of its kind for Safe Drinking Water Act
SAN FRANCISCO In an unprecedented decision, a U.S. district judge recently granted motions under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act against several family-owned Monterey County drinking water companies that hold the owners personally liable for endangering the health of more than 20,000 local residents.
The alleged violations are against Robert and Natholyn (Patricia) Adcock and the 11 drinking water supply systems that they own in Monterey County, the largest of which, Alco, serves 18,000 people in Salinas.
The decision marks the first time in the country that the corporate owners of a drinking water system have been found personally liable for violations under the public water system proovisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Adcocks could face fines up to $27,500 per day per violation.
The case, filed in the U.S. District Court in San Jose in 1997 on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, alleges that the defendants deliberately falsified lab reports for public water systems submitted to the state and Monterey County from 1991 through 1994 in order to hide violations.
On Aug. 23, the court issued an order granting three government motions, which included:
liability of corporate defendants for bacteriological violations;
liability of corporate defendants for lead and copper violations;
liability of the individual defendants for both bacteriological and lead and copper
"Customers of these Adcock-owned systems faced a health risk when bacteria was detected in their water supply. They faced another risk when the Adcocks hid these violations from state and county health officials," said John Rothman, senior attorney for the EPA's Pacific Southwest Office. "Public water systems must not be allowed to make unilateral decisions about public health."
Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, water providers are required to submit regular reports that measure for 90 separate contaminants. Failure to meet these requirements can result in contaminants and water borne diseases such as E. coli entering a water supply system, going undetected, and endangering public health.
The district court will discuss the penalty phase of the case at the next hearing in San Jose Oct. 10. Although a civil penalty has yet to be determined, the federal government will ask for civil penalties that could be as much as $27,500 per violation, per day. In addition, the court will address the government's claim that the water companies and the Adcocks have fraudulently transferred assets.
The Adcock-owned drinking water systems continue to operate in the Monterey/Salinas area, but under close scrutiny by the California Department of Health Services drinking water program and the Monterey County Health Department. In 1994, the state ordered the Adcock companies to test their water at a lab that is not family owned or tied to the Adcocks in any way. Throughout the investigation these agencies have worked closely with the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice to uncover violations at the Adcock-owned water systems.
Affected Adcock owned public water systems in 1997:
Alco Water Service (Salinas) serving 18,000 customers
Toro Water System serving 1,100 customers
Normco Water System serving 510 customers
San Jerardo Water System serving 249 customers
Pine Canyon Div. of Alco Water Service serving 210 customers
Moss Landing Harbor District Water serving 177 customers
Wildwood Water System serving 166 customers
Langley/Valle Pacifico Water System serving 81 customers
Blackie Road Water system #18 serving 60 customers
Vierra Estates Water Systems serving 60 customers
Vierra Canyon Water system #30 serving 36 customers
Total served 20,649