Newport Beach CA 

Defend the Bay has prevailed in its lawsuit against the Irvine Ranch Water District for failure to conduct proper environmental studies involving the conversion of the now empty San Joaquin Reservoir to a reclaimed sewage effluent storage facility. All approvals for the project were ordered to be set aside and the Irvine Ranch Water District was ordered to prepare full environmental studies for the proposed project.

The Court agreed with Defend The Bay in the case stating that there was substantial evidence presented by Defend The Bay establishing that the environmental impacts of the project had not been fully considered.

One of the more alarming aspects of the development was the projected seepage from the reservoir of approximately 4.2 million gallons of IRWDís treated sewage effluent per week into ground water resources. The IRWDís reports failed to show both the amount of contamination and its migration.

Other concerns voiced by Defend The Bay included overflow and spillage of the treated sewage during storms, possible collapse of reservoir walls, and possible hazards associated with the twelve tons of toxic gas on site. The potential impact of frequent trucking of toxic chlorine gas through a residential neighborhood was also brought to the courtís attention.

The IRWD had submitted a poorly planned Environmental Impact Report which ignored many glaring dangers to the community and our resources. When it did mention a danger it often gave vague, open-ended descriptions of how these problems would be solved.

If the IRWD is going to be in charge of millions of gallons of treated sewage, they had better act professional about it. Sloppy EIRs will not be tolerated when we have so much at stake with our health, safety, and environment.

“The issue of soil liquefaction takes on added significance when one considers that they will be storing and using up to twelve one-ton canisters of toxic chlorine gas at the facility on a regular basis” stated Founding Director Bob Caustin. These canisters are to be transported through the neighborhoods around the facility, again something that was not properly considered and examined from a public health risk, by the Water District.

The court stated in its ruling that Irvine Ranch Water District failed “to address the potential impact of frequent transport of tons of Chlorine through a residential area.”

In its five page ruling, the court also commented on environmental impacts associated with water quality, odors and vectors impacting the neighborhoods near the reservoir as a result of rapid algae growth and other problems associated with the storage of large quantities of treated effluent.

The court noted that "there is no showing that cleaning the reservoir once or twice a decade is sufficient to control odors." Commenting on the Districtís statement that mosquitoes and flies "will be controlled by controlling emergent vegetation and algae mats in the water" the court simply wrote: "What does this mean?"

The court also affirmed Defend The Bayís concerns about negative effects on rare, threatened and endangered species, citing the comments of biologist Robert Patten, an expert who reviewed the project on behalf of Defend The Bay. The court noted that the District had addressed the issue of impacts on endangered species during construction but had failed to do an adequate job with respect to long term effects of the operation of the facility, particularly as it related to seepage of sewage effluent and its impacts on downstream resources, including endangered species habitat.

"There were so many issues that were not properly covered by the District in its studies regarding this project that it is frankly very unsettling," observed Robert Caustin. "We hope this court victory becomes a precedent for more careful consideration of all significant projects in the watershed."

Kevin Johnson, legal counsel for Defend The Bay, stated that the court had scheduled a follow-up status conference for October 18, 2001 to discuss a time table for preparation of an EIR by the Water District and a schedule for a compliance hearings.

Defend The Bay is a non-profit Newport Beach-based environmental organization dedicated to the protection of Newport Bay and coastal waters in Orange County. Founded in 1995, Defend The Bay employs a unique mix of education, science, and law as tools to preserve and protect Orange County’s heritage and crown environmental jewels.

Further questions may be directed to

Bob Caustin at Defend the Bay (949)