I interviewed  Jennifer Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper last year while walking with her at the Arcata Marsh. My conversation with her touched on cleaning up Humboldt Bay, the Clean Water Act, and preparing for sea level rise in part one of two parts. I found her very informative and devoted to her work.
Dana Utman: When it comes to sites around the Humboldt Bay that need to be cleaned up, do you have any idea how many there might be?
Jennifer Kalt: There are dozens. There used to be over 100 lumber mills around the bay. For example, further up was a plywood mill, then there’s Beaver Lumber, and it just keeps going along Butcher Slough. There’s a lot of really complex site history. A lot of the mills changed hands many times and they reused the sites for different things, such as plywood, studs for building frames, or milling logs throughout different eras. But between the 1940s and the 1980s a lot of them used a wood preservative called pentachlorophenol or penta for short. It's still used it on power poles. There have been some recent lawsuits about that, and PG&E has agreed to stop using it. 
Luckily, the Clean Water Act has a citizen provision. If the government isn’t pursuing the laws, an organization can sue to enforce the laws that protect the waterways. A plaintiff in a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act can only collect attorney’s and expert fees. The money doesn’t actually go to the organization. People believe we oftentimes get all this money pursuing lawsuits, but we don’t. We get changes on the ground. It’s a big effort. Lawyers oftentimes do it on contingency, so they’re volunteering until you settle the case, and then they get paid after that. But the plaintiff doesn’t get any money. There’s incentive to do good, that’s why we do it. There is often a penalty, or SEP. It’s basically the money that goes to remedy some of the damage that was done, and that money will go off into another environmental group working in the watershed or it will go to a foundation, like Humboldt Area Foundation, that gives grants to other organizations working in the same watershed. But the plaintiff can’t apply for those grants.
Dana Utman: How do you think the system can be improved?
Jennifer Kalt: There could be a huge improvement in terms of other types of lawsuits and other types of environmental laws. Ultimately, what would be best, is if the government agencies would enforce their own regulations. 

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