On May 8, 2015, the First Amendment Amendment Project filed a lawsuit with the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) on behalf of ELF, a nonprofit organization, and Carmen Zamora, a resident of rural Monterey County. The lawsuit seeks to end the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s policy of allowing certain growers to keep groundwater pollution data secret.
Nitrate pollution from irrigated farmland is the preeminent threat to drinking water in the region. Small farmworker communities who rely on groundwater for their drinking water bear the brunt of this pollution and are most vulnerable to its effects, which include birth defects, cancer, thyroid, spleen, and kidney disease, and potentially deadly “blue baby syndrome.” To protect them and the public, the Regional Water Quality Control Board mandates and oversees monitoring of groundwater wells for nitrate pollution, notification of affected water users,and compliance reporting from dischargers.
Documentation regarding well monitoring data, notification and compliance, are considered “public records” and released for certain growers upon request by the public. However, those same records are no longer considered public and, therefore released, for members belonging to a private coalition of growers. For growers who have paid to belong to this private coalition, their data is kept secret.
On May 8, 2015, FAP, ELF, and CRLA filed a Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Declaratory Relief in San Louis Obispo Superior Court against the Regional Water Quality Control Board, alleging violations of the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, Water Code § 13000 et seq. and the California Public Records Act, Government Code § 6250 et seq.