Lawsuits fly over Squaw Valley water quality | SierraSun.com

Lawsuits fly over Squaw Valley water quality

Erich Sommer, Sierra Sun

The California Attorney General’s office and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board have sued Squaw Valley USA over a series of alleged water quality violations that resulted from years of unauthorized construction-related activities at the resort.

No sooner did the state’s top law office announce the suit on Thursday, Jan. 24 than Squaw Valley officials filed a lawsuit of their own against the regional water board, alleging discrimination and a violation of their constitutional rights.

“Squaw Valley USA has refused to follow environmental protection laws and take the steps necessary to prevent sediment runoff into area waterways,” Attorney General Bill Lockyer said Thursday in a statement.

“The resort must be held accountable for its continued disregard of water quality and other environmental standards designed to protect Sierra Nevada resources.”

“We’ve tried to explain to them we have not had any adverse effect on the water quality,” responded Nancy Wendt, president of Squaw Valley Ski Corp. On average, the water that leaves the resort’s boundaries exceeds drinking-water standards, she claimed.

The state’s suit alleges that activities ranging from the construction of ski lifts to unauthorized blasting have repeatedly violated federal, state and local environmental protection laws.

Some of the alleged violations resulted from the resort’s failure to obtain the proper permits or approvals.

In other instances, the suit claims the terms of certain permits were violated by allowing excessive erosion and runoff into Squaw Creek.

“Construction of ski runs, ski lifts, access roads, buildings, and other facilities at the [resort] have changed the natural drainage patterns and vegetation, thereby increasing erosion on the resort’s lands. This contributes excessive sediment to and further degrades the water quality of Squaw Creek,” the suit states.

Much of the runoff from Squaw Valley empties into Squaw Creek, which in turn empties into the Truckee River.

Last year, the regional water board, which closely monitors the runoff into both bodies of water, asked the Attorney General’s office to look into what they say is a history of water quality violations by Squaw Valley.

According to the lawsuit, the State Water Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consider Squaw Creek and the Truckee River to be “among the nation’s most polluted waterways … due to excessive sediment loads.”

The suit asks Placer County Superior Court to order the resort to “(remedy) environmental damage and prevent future violations of the law.” The complaint also seeks unspecified fines and “monetary relief.”

Squaw Valley has denied the violations, and in turned served Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board with a suit originally filed in federal court in Sacramento in November.

That suit alleges discrimination and a violation of the company’s constitutional rights “owing to the improper application of regulatory measures to Squaw Valley with the intention of causing Squaw Valley substantial harm.”

“This suit was not served upon Lahontan until Jan. 24 when it became evident that efforts to cooperate with that agency were ineffective …Lahontan sets a standard of water quality that is impossible to meet,” Squaw Valley officials said in a prepared statement.

But the head of the water board, executive officer Harold Singer, disagreed.

“The regional board believes this action is necessary to obtain compliance with water quality laws. It is unfortunate that, despite the many actions the regional board has already taken over the years, Squaw Valley USA continues its pattern of violations,” he said.

Squaw Valley officials did not return repeated phone calls for additional comment by the Sierra Sun on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.