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June 12, 2018  |  Written by Brenda C. Bass

Appeals Court Blocks Nuisance Claims Based on Presence of Chemicals in Drinking Water within Specified Regulatory Limits

Water districts providing drinking water that meets applicable drinking water quality standards are immune from nuisance claims, according to a recent decision from the California Fourth District Court of Appeals.  This is because when a statute or regulation expressly authorizes a particular action, nuisance claims based on that action are barred.

A group of homeowners sued several Southern California drinking water providers, alleging that the copper pipes in their homes were damaged due to the addition of chloramine to the drinking water supply.  Chloramine is a common disinfectant added to drinking water supplies to protect human health.  The water providers had obtained a permit from state drinking water regulators to add chloramines, and had used them consistently since 1985.  Furthermore, state and federal regulations set a maximum residual level for chloramines at 4.0 milligrams per liter.  At no point did the water providers exceed this level in the drinking water provided to the homeowners.

Accordingly, the court concluded that the regulations and permit expressly allow chloramines to be present in drinking water below a specified concentration.  Since the federal and state Safe Drinking Water Acts authorize the creation of such drinking water quality regulations, the activity complained of was expressly authorized by statute.  The operation of Civil Code section 3482 then prevents the homeowners from bringing their nuisance claims against the water districts because the presence or addition of chloramines at a certain level was expressly authorized.

The application of Civil Code section 3482 to nuisance claims related to drinking water quality provides needed clarity and helps shield drinking water providers from legal battles when the water they provide meets applicable standards.

For more information on this case, Williams v. Moulton Niguel Water District (May 3, 2018, No. G053002) __ Cal.App.5th __, please contact Brenda Bass at bbass@somachlaw.com.

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