The group We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review filed a lawsuit in Napa County Superior Court on August 24 against Siskiyou County and Crystal Geyser Water Company, whose corporate offices are in Napa County.

The suit alleges that planned operations at the water bottling plant just outside Mount Shasta City limits are “inconsistent” with sections of the county’s Zoning Ordinance and General Plan and it seeks a declamatory judgment to that effect from the Napa court.

Additionally, the suit alleges that a groundwater extraction permit is necessary if the corporation pursues planned operations. An injunction is sought from the court to prohibit plant operations until such a permit is obtained.

Michael Kobseff, Siskiyou County Supervisor for District 3, said on Monday that he could not comment on the matter due to ongoing litigation. “The board of supervisors has this on our agenda for the closed session of our September 1 meeting.”

W.A.T.E.R. first expressed its contention that Crystal Geyser’s planned operations are “inconsistent” with the county Zoning Ordinance and General Plan in a letter dated June 3, 2015 and sent to both the county and to Crystal Geyser.

Bruce Hillman, one of the group’s members, said the letter was sent on the advice of their attorney.

“We first wanted to give the county and Crystal Geyser every non-judicial opportunity possible to address and correct the situations now listed in the lawsuit,” he explained.

Hillman said neither Siskiyou County nor Crystal Geyser responded to the letter.

“If our challenge is correct and W.A.T.E.R. prevails, the county could choose to change the General Plan in order to allow Crystal Geyser to proceed with its planned operations,” Hillman said.

Land use and water attorney Donald Mooney, who represents W.A.T.E.R. in the lawsuit, said that if the county does so, “that would constitute a discretionary action which would itself require preparation of environmental review documents and compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.”

Crystal Geyser Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Strategy Judy Yee stated in an email that Crystal Geyser Water Company was “disappointed” to learn that a lawsuit had been filed against the company and the county and an injunction is being sought against the Mount Shasta plant. 

“We are still reviewing the lawsuit and our company policy is not to comment on pending litigation. We are moving ahead however with our plans to open the plant in the coming months. We will also continue our support for local community events and organizations, abiding by our commitment to strengthen communities where we do business and protect the environment where we source our water,” Yee stated in the email.

Zoning and General Plan

The lawsuit alleges that while the Crystal Geyser plant is located in an area zoned as heavy-industrial, the General Plan for that area contains a “Woodland Productivity” overlay that includes land use policies specifying allowable uses such as single-family residential, light industrial, light commercial, open space, and recreational.

According to the suit, because the county’s General Plan states that “in all cases where one or more development policies in the Land Use Element conflict with each other, the lowest density policy and the most restrictive use policy will apply…” any operations planned by Crystal Geyser deemed heavy-industrial would be trumped by the Woodland Productivity overlay’s more restrictive use policy.

The suit cites a description of planned operations allegedly submitted by Crystal Geyser to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, noting that those operations include blow molding of polyethylene terephthalate plastic bottles. Blow molding is a manufacturing process by which hollow plastic parts, such as bottles, are formed, according to Wikipedia.com.

Siskiyou County allows the manufacture of plastic only in areas zoned heavy-industrial, according to the ordinance referenced in the suit, Zoning Ordinance 10-6.4073(d).

Conditional use permits

The suit further alleges that, even if the Woodland Productivity overlay did not apply to the bottling plant, the blow molding of plastic bottles as well as the production of some of the other products Crystal Geyser plans to produce would require conditional use permits from the county in accordance with the Zoning Ordinance.

Those permitting processes would be discretionary in nature, according to the suit, requiring preparation of environmental review documents and compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Although the suit acknowledges that “bottling works and spring and mineral water bottling works at the source” constitute allowable use in a light-industrial zoned area, it contends that the planned production of such beverages as tea and juice, as allegedly also reported to the CVRWQCB, do not fall into that category.

The suit claims that brewing tea requires a conditional use permit according to the county Zoning Ordinance governing light-industrial use and claims that bottling juice is not permitted because the juice is not taken “at the source.”

Groundwater

extraction exemption

Finally, the W.A.T.E.R. lawsuit alleges that Crystal Geyser’s planned operations are not covered under exemptions to the county’s groundwater extraction ordinance.

That ordinance exempts water bottling and the transporting of bottled water from restrictions on groundwater extraction within Siskiyou County, but it does not include a definition of “bottled water.”

According to the lawsuit, products containing sweeteners or acidifying agents such as citric acid and non-mineral water products containing more than 500 parts per million of dissolved solids do not fall within the parameters of the state of California’s definition of bottled water.

W.A.T.E.R.’s lawsuit contends that because the juice and tea products Crystal Geyser plans to produce and export from the county do not constitute “bottled water” as defined by the state of California, the company is not exempt from the Siskiyou County ordinance banning extraction of groundwater for use outside the county and that the corporation must apply for a conditional ground water extraction permit before beginning operations.