Water faucet. Photo by Matthew Bowden via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order after finding the owners of a privately owned mobile home park on the Pala Band of Mission Indians Reservation were in violation of federal laws that safeguard clean drinking water, it was announced Thursday.

EPA officials said problems with a faulty septic system and broken water lines at the Lee Bar Ranch mobile home park were so bad that the park’s residents have been told to start boiling water to drink. The EPA called the water system at the park — which has no connection to the Pala Band — “a danger to the residents of the park.”

The mobile home park is owned by Jim and Kristin Nichols from upstate New York.

“With this order, EPA is ensuring that the water system is properly operated to provide the mobile home park residents safe drinking water,” said John Busterud, the EPA’s Pacific Southwest regional administrator.

He added that the drinking water system on Lee Bar Ranch mobile home park was not registered with the EPA and was out of compliance with monitoring and reporting regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Inspections between January and May of the mobile home park’s sewage and water system found that untreated human waste and sewage was being discharged onto the soil throughout the property as a result of a failing septic systems. A broken water line was also discovered, raising the threat that surrounding pollutants, including fecal bacteria and nitrates, could enter and contaminate the drinking water system.

Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, said the tribe had spoken to the Nichols.

“We are very relieved that the EPA has acknowledged this ongoing pattern of clean water violations and has stepped in to remedy this hazardous situation,” Smith said. “Jim and Kristin Nichols owe it to the residents of that mobile home park to clean up the mess they’ve created, follow federal law and ensure people’s drinking water is safe.”

The problems at the park were uncovered by the Pala Band’s environmental department, which conducted the tests earlier this year after residents of the mobile home park raised concerns about the raw sewage discharge and numerous failing septic systems on the property. Additionally, surrounding tribal neighborhoods had started to complain about sewage odors in the area.

Under the terms of the EPA’s administrative order, the Nichols are required to issue a notice to mobile home park residents to boil water, but also must continue to take drinking water samples to detect coliform bacteria.

If contamination is found, the Nichols must provide at least one gallon of drinking water a day for each person served by the water system. They also must draft and carry out a repair plan to correct the problems with the septic and water systems.

EPA administrators said they will continue to oversee the Nichols’ efforts to comply with Safe Drinking Water Act requirements and may levy civil penalties if the owners fail to meet the compliance provisions in the administrative order.

While the mobile home park is a private in-holding that lies within the reservation, the Pala Band of Mission Indians has no direct control or ownership of the septic or water systems. EPA has worked with the Pala Band of Mission Indians and consulted with their leadership about the violations.

–City News Service