City of Santa Monica to Sue Oil Companies Over Contaminated Drinking Water

"Oil Companies Need to be Held Accountable for What They Have Done to Santa Monica," Mayor Genser Declared
Updated 9:04 AM ET June 20, 2000

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (BUSINESS WIRE) - The City of Santa Monica today announced it has filed suit against 18 oil industry companies, including refiners, manufacturers, owners, operators and suppliers, responsible for contaminating city water wells with the noxious and potentially cancer-causing gasoline additive MtBE.

Initiating a new phase in the City's battle to force the polluters to clean up its water supply and restore the City's water independence, Santa Monica officials also announced they have engaged a high profile legal team to direct the litigation.

Since the 1920s, Santa Monica has supplied a large part of its citizens' water needs with its own wells. As recently as 1995, the City was nearly self-sufficient and relied on the region's scarce imported water supplies for only 20-30% of its water. During the 1994 earthquake, it was the City's sole drinking water source.

"For over 75 years, Santa Monica's water was safe and reliable. Now thanks to the oil industry, the City no longer can use most of its drinking water. This outrage must stop. The time has come for the oil industry to pay for the clean-up of its pollution and for the City to regain use of its most precious natural resource--drinking water," said Mayor Ken Genser.

"Because of the oil companies' leaky pipelines and tanks, MtBE contaminated our vital groundwater aquifer at the Charnock Well Field. Now, Santa Monica has lost all of its Charnock Wells, and is dependent on outside water resources for 80 percent of its supply."

Santa Monica has worked extensively with several oil companies to craft a plan for cleaning up the contaminated wells. However, in January 2000, the oil companies walked away from the negotiating process, and refused to renew an ongoing agreement under which solutions were being investigated, according to City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.

"Despite years of attempts to work with the oil companies, our basic problem remains unchanged," Moutrie said. "The well field is still contaminated. We still cannot drink our own water. The polluters that contaminated our Charnock Well Field have not taken responsibility for the damage they did to the City."

"True, the oil companies have made some gestures. A couple of oil companies bought water for us. That's not nearly enough. Poisoning someone's cow and then handing them only a glass of milk adds insult to injury."

Mayor Ken Genser, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, and Environmental and Public Works Director Craig Perkins, announced the formation of a legal team that will fight to get Santa Monica its day in court.

"Litigating against the oil companies is a daunting task," Moutrie added. "Santa Monica is a small city, which needs to take on corporate giants with unimaginable financial resources and political power. To prepare for that fight we have found the best possible legal assistance, three highly qualified law firms that have agreed to work together with the City to win its biggest case ever."

According to Perkins, the City of Santa Monica was one of the first cities in America to discover the pervasive problem of MtBE contamination.

"MtBE was never tested for its impact on public health or water resources before the oil companies made it a fuel additive to reduce air pollution," Perkins said. "It is shocking that the oil companies would allow such a pernicious chemical to be released into the environment and threaten public drinking water supplies, but that's exactly what they have done. Moreover, they have refused to take responsibility to fix the damage to our water resources.

"We live in a desert. Southern California's imported water supplies are limited and endangered. When Santa Monica has to buy outside water to replace its own supplies, our independence is compromised, and the entire region's water supplies are overtaxed. It is vital that the polluters pay. We are fighting for the rights of our ratepayers to get back their water," Perkins said.