News Briefs: Should Water Utilities Be Liable for Wildfire Damages?

In this week's sewer and water news, a coalition of California water utilities lobbies lawmakers to protect them from liability for damages caused by fires they didn't start but failed to help extinguish

A coalition of public and private water utilities in California is lobbying lawmakers to draft legislation that protects them from liability for damages caused by fires they didn’t start, even if they failed to help put the fires out.

One of the cases being cited by the Coalition for Fire Protection and Accountability involves a water utility that was held liable for $70 million in damages after being unable to supply water to firefighters. The utility had a pump station that was damaged in the fire and became inoperable.

Justin Skarb, director of government relations for California Water Service, tells the Enterprise-Record that it’s an untenable situation. “The water utility was a victim of the fire and held responsible for that same fire,” he says. “That seems pretty far removed from anything remotely fair.”

California Considers Downsizing Delta Tunnels Project

The Earth Island Journal recently published an article detailing the predicament California is in since Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a decision to downsize the state’s Delta Tunnels project from two tunnels into a single tunnel.

The original proposal — nearly a decade old — intended to supply water from the northern part of the state to the southern area using two 40-foot wide and 35-mile long tunnels that would divert water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to an existing system that supplies the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California.

Environmentalists are welcoming Newsom’s plan to scale it back to a single tunnel, as it would take less water away from the Delta region and have less of an impact on native animal life.

Until the state’s Department of Water Resources conducts its environmental analysis of the new plan, however, specific details remain unknown.

EPA Seeking Public Comments on Perchlorate Regulations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a notice of proposed rule-making that seeks public input on a range of options regarding the regulation of perchlorate in public drinking water systems.

The agency is seeking comment on a proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for perchlorate to establish a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and a health-based Maximum Contaminant Level Goal at 56 micrograms per liter. In addition, the agency is seeking comment on three alternative regulatory options: an MCL and MCLG for perchlorate set at 18 micrograms per liter; an MCL and MCLG for perchlorate set at 90 micrograms per liter; and withdrawal of the agency’s 2011 determination to regulate perchlorate in drinking water.

The EPA will accept public comment on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register via


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