In a letter to Patrick Covello, Warden of Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP), and Ralph Diaz, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), Amador County has given a 60-day notice of its intention to sue with regard to violations of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, commonly known as the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The county alleges that CDCR is engaging in ongoing violations of the CWA by discharging pollutants from MCSP into Mule Creek, without a permit, as is required by the CWA. Unless CDCR enters into a binding agreement with the county to cease all illegal discharges and to fully and promptly remediate the impacts of all past, current and imminent violations, the lawsuit will be pursued 60 days from the date of the notice (May 15, 2020).

“We all know these are long-standing issues and that CDCR has failed to adequately resolve them,” said Gregory Gillott, Amador County Counsel. “And for some reason, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) has been unable to appropriately prosecute these violations as thoroughly and as swiftly as they do in other contexts. As such, the Amador County Board of Supervisors determined that it had no alternative other than to pursue this course of action.”

The notice, sent by Amador County Counsel, outlines a number of issues with CDCR and its operations at MCSP. In the original 1985 agreement between CDCR, Amador County, the City of Ione and the Amador County Unified School District for MCSP, CDCR was to construct a facility in a manner consistent with specific hydrology and wastewater treatment mitigation measures, as well as laws and regulations governing wastewater and treated effluent.

That facility was never built. As documented in the notice, CDCR is not operating the facility as required by these measures or in accordance with laws and regulations governing wastewater and treated effluent, and is thus in violation of the 1985 agreement.

Historically, and on an ongoing basis, there have been numerous documented discharges from MCSP into Mule Creek. Samples from MCSP’s storm water system reveal that the discharges contain wastewater commingled with contaminated storm water and grey water. The discharges contain very high levels of Total Coliform, E. Coli and Fecal Coliform. Additionally, discharges contained bacteria and industrial pollutants that are illegal to discharge into Mule Creek without a permit or in violation of any applicable permit.

Discharges from MCSP also occur when pollutants from the wastewater system are discharged to spray fields that load directly to Mule Creek.

CDCR does not have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit that authorizes discharges. CDCR operates the wastewater system at MCSP under Waste Discharge Requirements (“WDR”) Order, issued by the RWQCB. The WDR permit does not authorize the discharges outlined in the notice and concludes that the discharges into Mule Creek are illegal and violate the CWA.

As the notice states, none of the permits allow CDCR to discharge raw waste, commingled wastewater and storm water, industrial pollutants, including, but not limited to designated wastes such as volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and semi-volatile compounds (SVOCs). Discharges that have occurred were illegal.

The notice gives CDCR 60 days to cease pollution discharges, seek a federal permit and mitigate the effects of the pollution or else the lawsuit will proceed.