2016 NGWA Groundwater Summit

Protecting Your Water Supply and Your Bottom Line: Shifting Costs from Ratepayers to Responsible Parties

Monday, April 25, 2016: 11:20 a.m.
Confluence Ballroom C (The Westin Denver Downtown)
Richard Head, JD, MSES , SL Environmental Law Group PC, San Francisco, CA

Water suppliers and water treatment operators face unprecedented financial challenges as they endeavor to comply with increasingly stringent drinking water standards. Despite the fact that much contamination was caused by businesses who released chemicals into the environment as part of their operations, the water supply industry traditionally has been reluctant to use tort litigation to seek to recover treatment costs from those business polluters. One reason is that water suppliers often think that the only prospective defendants are the small local businesses who were the last to touch product whose chemical components eventually entered and harmed the water supply. These small local businesses generally do not have sufficient financial resources or insurance coverage to reimburse the water supplier for the cost of responding to the contamination.

Recent lawsuits by some water suppliers have successfully pursued an innovative legal strategy. These new cases do not focus on the end user who last touched the product but on the manufacturer of the product who introduced it into the stream of commerce. These innovative cases include lawsuits by water suppliers against the refiners of gasoline containing MTBE, the manufacturers of other products including PCE (used by dry cleaners), TCE (used by a variety of industrial users), and DBCP, TCP, and Atrazine (used by farmers). This new legal strategy has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being paid to water suppliers by manufacturers of products which contaminated water supplies.

This innovative approach to water contamination litigation has important implications for water suppliers, lawyers, regulators, and environmental consultants. This presentation will discuss the legal theories underlying these landmark cases and the status of lawsuits currently pending in jurisdictions around the country. The presentation will also discuss the legal and political responsibilities facing a water supplier whose water supply has been impacted by man-made pollution.

Richard Head, JD, MSES, SL Environmental Law Group PC, San Francisco, CA
Richard Head is Of Counsel at SL Environmental Law Group, before that he was Associate Attorney General for the New Hampshire Justice Department, where he held multiple leadership positions, including Bureau Chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau. Richard earned his B.A. from Clark University and J.D. and M.S. in Environmental Science from Indiana University. Richard is admitted to practice in New Hampshire, the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire, Vermont and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.