Friday, October 30, 2009
The county is required by law to shield its water consumers from drinking polluted water, according to the latest ruling in an ongoing lawsuit over fluoride-contaminated wells in the Cachagua area of Carmel Valley.
As early as 1995, tests showed that well water in the Jensen Camp mobile home park had higher-than-safe levels of fluoride--but residents wouldn't be informed that the water was unsafe for eight years. Then-owner Rick Pinch provided the reports to the county, but county staff didn't take action on them until April 2003, when they ordered Pinch to repair the water system. Four months later Javier Guzman and Tosha Djirbandee-Ramos bought the park from Pinch.
In 2004 Guzman and park residents successfully sued Pinch, but their complaints against the county have been bouncing around the courts in pre-trial ping-pong for five years. The local Superior Court agreed the county isn't required to notify consumers of unsafe water, but the appeals court disagreed. The state Supereme Court later reversed that decision, but directed the appeals court to revisit the question of whether the county has a mandatory duty to respond to unsafe water levels. The defense argues it's the water system operator's responsibility.
The question of has wide-ranging implications for unincorporated areas--or other regions served by small water systems, often drawn from wells--across California.
Jensen Camp residents have been drinking bottled water since the contamination became known. Guzman and Djirbandee-Ramos sold the mobile home park to Monterey pastor Howie Hugo in fall 2008, shortly after the Weekly's cover story on its deteriorating living conditions.