Friday, March 11, 2011

NRDC v. County Of Los Angeles

Mar 10: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 10-56017. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Plaintiffs-Appellants Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Santa Monica Baykeeper appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of two municipal entities that Plaintiffs allege are discharging polluted stormwater in violation of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (the Clean Water Act, Act, or CWA). Plaintiffs contend that Defendants-Appellees County of Los Angeles (County) and Los Angeles County Flood Control District (District) are discharging polluted urban stormwater runoff collected by municipal separate storm sewer systems (ms4) into navigable waters in Southern California. The levels of pollutants detected in four rivers exceed the limits allowed in a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit which governs municipal stormwater discharges in the County.
    Although all parties agree that numerous water-quality standards have been exceeded in the Watershed Rivers, Defendants contend that there is no evidence establishing their responsibility for, or discharge of, stormwater carrying pollutants to the rivers. The district court agreed with Defendants and entered a partial final judgment. The Appeals Court, however, said, "We conclude that the district court erred with respect to the evidence of discharges by the District into two of the Watershed Rivers -- the Los Angeles River and San Gabriel River. Specifically, Plaintiffs provided evidence that the monitoring stations for the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers are located in a section of ms4 owned and operated by the District and, after stormwater known to contain standards-exceeding pollutants passes through these monitoring stations, this polluted stormwater is discharged into the two rivers. Accordingly, Plaintiffs were entitled to summary judgment on the District's liability for discharges into the Los Angeles River and San Gabriel River, and therefore we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the District on these claims."
    The Appeals Court said further, "Plaintiffs, however, failed to meet their evidentiary burden with respect to discharges by the District into the Santa Clara River and Malibu Creek [the other two water bodies]. Plaintiffs did not provide evidence sufficient for the district court to determine if stormwater discharged from an ms4 controlled by the District caused or contributed to pollution exceedances located in these two rivers. Similarly, Plaintiffs did not delineate how stormwater from ms4s controlled by the County caused or contributed to exceedances in any of the Watershed Rivers. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants on these claims."
    NRDC issued a release and commented on the decision saying, "This ruling holds LA County responsible for their massive water pollution problem. For years, the County claimed that it could never be held accountable for its toxic discharges, even if the water were so polluted that it literally caught on fire. All of that changes with this ruling. The result will be fewer illnesses, fewer beach closings, a healthier environment, and a healthier regional economy."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here).