Water Quality and Supply

Officials seek to “improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness” of NRDAs — which could help expedite the resolution of claims.

By Janice M. Schneider, Gary P. Gengel, Joel C. Beauvais, Kegan A. Brown, and Thomas C. Pearce

On August 27, 2018, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) requesting comments by October 26, 2018 on potential changes to its natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) regulations under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). This law authorizes federal, state, and tribal trustees to recover natural resource damages (NRD) for injuries to natural resources resulting from hazardous substance releases. NRDAs that follow the DOI regulations are entitled to a rebuttable presumption of validity in later court proceedings.

In the ANPR, DOI seeks input on how to “improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness” of NRDAs and accelerate restoration of injured natural resources. While there are many areas in which to improve the regulations that will be considered, DOI specifically requests comment on the following six issues:

Latham lawyers discuss the forces driving transformation in the market and the key legal and regulatory issues.

By Tommy Beaudreau, Joel Beauvais, Joel Mack, Ryan Maierson, and Janice Schneider

Water management is becoming increasingly critical amid increasing oil and gas production in the Permian Basin and other regions of the United States. In particular, many companies are now seeking to manage larger quantities of produced water, and/or to secure water supplies for drilling activities — leading

Polluters of one of China’s most polluted waterways are increasingly facing prosecution through coordinated local and national efforts.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

Chinese authorities have been increasing their efforts to prosecute environmental offenders along the Yangtze River, the third-longest river in the world and the longest in Asia. The crackdown reflects China’s goal to make 70% of its surface water safe to consume by 2020.

Water Pollution: A Serious Problem for China

China’s government has good reason to take the problem of water pollution seriously. In 2012, a senior official from the water ministry acknowledged that 20% of China’s waterways were classified as toxic, while 40% were seriously polluted. The World Bank has further noted that water pollution could have “catastrophic consequences for future generations,” and that the problem is compounded by the fact that China does not have enough water for its population to safely consume. (For more information on China’s water supply, see Latham’s previous blog post).

Upstream entities will need to shoulder more responsibility in the warning process after August 30th.

By Michael G. Romey and Lucas I. Quass

As discussed in Latham’s previous post, August 30, 2018 will mark a significant change in the enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65 (Prop 65). California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), which is responsible for the implementation of Prop 65, published new regulations in 2016 (2016 Regulations) that will adjust how businesses provide what OEHHA deems “clear and reasonable” warnings to consumers about products that may result in an exposure to a chemical listed by the State as potentially causing cancer and/or reproductive harm. Among other obligations, the 2016 Regulations will require businesses to provide consumers with more information about chemicals listed under Prop 65 in consumer products, whether bought online or in person. The 2016 Regulations also explain which entities in the chain of commerce are primarily responsible for compliance with particular Prop 65 requirements.

Specifically, the 2016 Regulations impose more responsibility on upstream entities, such as manufacturers, distributors, packagers, importers, producers, and suppliers (Upstream Entities), shifting the primary burden away from retailers. See CAL. CODE REGS. tit. 27, § 25600.2(a) (2016). This increase in responsibility is based on OEHHA’s understanding that Upstream Entities possess superior knowledge about which chemicals are involved in producing consumer products. The 2016 Regulations also provide retailers with the opportunity to secure legal indemnity via written agreement with Upstream Entities. Id. § 25600.2(i).

This blog post is part of a continuing series on Prop 65 compliance issues aimed at entities within the California chain of commerce, as the 2016 Regulations become effective on August 30, 2018. The 2016 Regulations are applicable to products manufactured on or after August 30, 2018.

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California leadership increases the possibility of much-needed relief for California’s aging water-supply infrastructure.

By Paul N. Singarella, Daniel P. Brunton, and Lucas I. Quass

The California WaterFix is the most expensive, important, and controversial water infrastructure project in California, and perhaps the country, in decades. At a price tag of US$16.3 billion, WaterFix is designed to restore reliability to an aging water-supply infrastructure that serves 25 million Californians and more than three million acres of California farmland. WaterFix can be thought of as an insurance policy for the California economy, and indeed society at large, against possible — and potentially catastrophic — further loss of this critical water supply. An historic July 10 vote by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan) was a major step forward, and vote of confidence, for WaterFix, increasing the likelihood that the promise of WaterFix will be realized.

The Evolution of California WaterFix

Together, the State Water Project (SWP) and the Central Valley Project (CVP) form the largest water supply system in the country. This system diverts water from the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta (Delta) and conveys it hundreds of miles to places like Silicon Valley, Southern California, and otherwise parched farmland that cannot survive on local supplies alone. The Delta is the lynchpin of this system, the gateway through which virtually all water conveyed from the Northern California rivers to the rest of the state must pass. The Delta is used this way because the SWP/CVP system was never completed. Original planning decades ago proposed to run fresh river water around the Delta. Instead the water enters the Delta where it mixes with brackish Delta water before it is diverted.

Upcoming regulation will require online and catalog retailers to implement product warnings.

By: Michael G. Romey and Lucas I. Quass

Enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly known as Proposition 65 (Prop 65), will change significantly on August 30, 2018. Two years earlier, on August 30, 2016, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the agency responsible for implementing Prop 65, issued regulations that increased businesses’ responsibility to provide a “clear and reasonable” warning to consumers for products that contain carcinogens and/or reproductive toxicants. Among other requirements, under these new regulations (2016 Regulations) businesses must provide consumers in California with more specific information about potentially harmful chemicals in their consumer products. The 2016 Regulations also specify which entities in the stream of commerce are responsible for providing the Prop 65 warnings and the information that goes into the warnings.

Specifically, the 2016 Regulations will impact online retailers and upstream entities such as product manufacturers, suppliers, and distributers, who under the 2016 Regulations are primarily responsible for Prop 65 warning labels. See CAL. CODE. REGS. tit. 27, § 25600.2(a) (2016).

This blog post is the first in a series to consider several issues as the 2016 Regulations become effective on August 30, 2018. These regulations are only applicable to products manufactured on or after August 30, 2018. If you have further questions about the implementation of the 2016 Regulations, please contact one of the authors or the Latham lawyer with whom you usually consult.

China’s uneven distribution of water sources presents unique difficulties to China as demand for water is increasing rapidly.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

China’s water supply problems are well-known globally. However, the main problem facing China is how to distribute its water, rather than lack of water per se. 80% of China’s water supply lies in southern China. But this water cannot be used by the population of 12 Chinese provinces representing 41% of its total population, 38% of Chinese agriculture, 46% of its industry, and 50% of its power generation. Eight of these provinces are currently experiencing acute water scarcity, while in four provinces water is merely “scarce,” and two provinces are largely desert. Moreover, the problem is getting worse, with 28,000 rivers in China having dried up over the past 25 years. And China’s appetite for water continues to grow, with consumption forecast to rise to 670 billion cubic meters a year by the early 2020s.

Adding to the problem is the fact that coal mining is a water-intensive as well as polluting process, and 85% of coal reserves in China are located in provinces where water is scarce and must be shared with a large agriculture industry. Reportedly 20% of all water use in China is for mining, processing, or consumption of coal, and almost 70% is for agricultural purposes. Rapid growth in water demand, combined with a reliance on groundwater drawn from aquifers, has resulted in a new problem — subsidence. This poses a threat to over 50 cities in China and is being closely monitored by the government.

By Chris Garrett, Diego Flores, Lucas Quass and Samantha Seikkula

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[i]

In an unpublished opinion issued March 26, 2018, Golden Door Properties, LLC v. Vallecitos Water District, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment sustaining the Vallecitos Water District’s (District’s) demurrer from Golden Door, LLC’s (Golden Door’s) challenge to two statutory assessments in which the District concluded there is a sufficient water supply for Newland Sierra, LLC’s (Newland’s) proposed residential development (Project) in rural unincorporated San Diego County (County). In summary, the court determined:

  • A Water Supply Assessment issued by a water district in conjunction with a project’s CEQA review process is not independently reviewable and may only be challenged as part of a final EIR.
  • Challenges to a rescinded Water Verification are moot if there is uncertainty about whether particular dispute will recur and, in any case, will not evade review.

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection’s increased authority over climate change and pollution control issues indicates a greater enforcement role for central government.

By Paul A. Davies and Andrew Westgate

The Chinese government has announced a major reorganization of China’s ministries that comprise the Chinese central government at a session of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing. The reorganization, which will reduce the number of ministries from 34 to 26, is intended to streamline and strengthen central government’s role in accordance with the principle of “comprehensively deepening reforms,” a key component of President Xi Jinping’s political program.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) will be reconstituted as the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) as part of the reorganization. The MEE’s authority will expand to consolidate pollution-related responsibilities currently allocated among several other ministries, as well as assuming responsibility for climate change policy from the National Development and Reform Commission, a powerful economic planning agency which developed the national emissions trading system launched in late 2017. Specifically, MEE will expand its authority with respect to supervision and prevention of groundwater pollution, wastewater emission control, protection of rivers, non-point source agricultural runoff, protection of oceanic environments, environmental oversight for China’s massive South-North Water Transfer Project, and responsibility for climate change and emissions reduction policies.

By Joel Beauvais

Can a discharge “through” groundwater violate the Clean Water Act?

If a pipeline spills fuel that travels through groundwater into a stream, is it a discharge in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA)? What if pollutants leach out of a coal ash impoundment into groundwater and later end up in a nearby river? What if a sewage utility injects treated wastewater into the ground and it travels through groundwater to the ocean? These are the kinds of questions raised by a rapidly expanding set of CWA citizen suits based on the so-called “groundwater conduit” theory. The theory holds that an unpermitted discharge of a pollutant into groundwater can violate the CWA if the pollutant is conducted through groundwater to a “water of the United States.” More than half a dozen district court decisions addressing this issue have been handed down in the last few years, and at present five appeals are pending in three different U.S. Courts of Appeals. The sheer volume of litigation, together with the serious implications of the theory for a host of major industries, make this one of the hottest issues in environmental law today and a likely candidate for Supreme Court review.