Drakes sued over water quality

02/13/2014

A litigious nonprofit based in Sonoma County filed suit last week against Drakes Bay Oyster Company for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act that the farm says are unfounded and likely related to its fight with the federal government. California River Watch claims the farm is discharging biological waste like oyster shells, oyster meat and single-cell algae used as shellfish food as well as cleaning agents like chlorine into Drakes Estero, without proper permitting. Last summer, River Watch also sued Lunny Paving and Grading over Clean Water Act violations; they have settled, owner Kevin Lunny said, as virtually all of River Watch’s suits are, because of the expense of litigating. Mr. Lunny says the recent charges are also meritless. “I’m actually quite astounded that they would make the allegation. They inspected the site. We gave them a tour. I believe they know better.” Drakes Bay says any cleaning agent used in the shucking facility would end up in the septic system, and that shellfish and packaging wastes are disposed as solids. Mr. Lunny said there are pipes that pull saltwater into and out of tanks, where oyster seed is set. A letter from Drakes Bay to the Regional Water Quality Control Board last fall said that though a few millileters of liquid algal food may be added, the water is not treated with any chemicals and the oysters eat the algae. “What goes out is, as a practical matter, what comes in,” the letter says. It also argues that in 2007, when the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin claimed that Drakes Bay was allowing unpermitted discharges into the estero, the board concluded the farm needed no permits from the board for its activities. River Watch also said Drakes Bay is spreading didemnum vexillum, a tunicate that attaches to hard surfaces that the E.A.C. refers to as “marine vomit” and claims harms the ecosystem. Drakes Bay responds that the tunicate exists regionally and even globally, and that it would be reintroduced from San Francisco Bay even if they could theoretically remove it. Mr. Lunny also said that the success of the oyster farm itself was predicated on pristine water and questioned why he would dump pollutants into the same estero in which he cultivates his bivalves. “Oyster farmers tend to be the best stewards of the watershed… they depend on good water quality. So what’s driving River Watch to come after the rock quarry and come after the oyster farm? I gotta believe it’s not unrelated to our dispute with the National Park Service.”