U.S. Supreme Court Decision Favors County
• NRDC and Waterkeeper Flood Control Discharge Suit Rejected
BY BILL KOENEKER
The United States Supreme Court issued an opinion this week in a case brought against the Los Angeles County Flood Control District by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the L.A. Waterkeeper (formerly known as the Santa Monica Baykeeper) regarding the district's role and responsibility in managing stormwater and runoff pollution in Los Angeles County.
A county press release reported the High Court's opinion favored the county, while an NRDC release opined the Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing the county “to temporarily avoid responsibility for high levels of water pollution found in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers.”
The environmental groups sought to hold the county responsible for what they call “the toxic mix of mercury, arsenic, cyanide, lead and fecal bacteria found in billions of gallons of stormwater.”
Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case. The county said what was at issue was whether the act of conveying stormwater from cities through the district's flood control system constituted a “point source” for pollution discharge. The opinion issued by the Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Our work is not done. The fight for clean water is ongoing and remains a collective priority for the district and our many water quality stakeholders within the region,” said Gail Farber, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works and chief engineer of the district.
However, NRDC officials contend the High Court's ruling “resolved a narrow legal issue that the parties all agreed on; that the flow of polluted water within a single river does not constitute a 'discharge of pollutants’ under the Clean Water Act. The court did not excuse the county from liability for ongoing water pollution in the Los Angeles and san Gabriel rivers.”
“We will continue to seek to hold the Los Angeles County Flood Control District responsible for cleaning up its water pollution,” said Steve Fleischi, NRDC’s senior attorney and director of the groups national water program.
“Unless something changes, stormwater pollution will continue to sicken up to one million people in Southern California every year, while local government turns a blind eye and avoids basic infrastructure solutions that will protect people, preserve water and increase water reserves.”