Unanimous Decision Will Curtail State's Biggest Source of Water Pollution, Urban Runoff

LOS ANGELES (December 7, 2004) -- A unanimous three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal today ruled that state regulators can require that bodies of water are clean, not merely require that polluters make an effort to reduce contaminated runoff. The decision will immediately affect more than half-a-dozen pending cases that challenge the right of state regulators to require compliance with water quality standards.

The decision in Building Industry Association of San Diego County et al., v. State Water Resources Control Board et al., is available here.

"This is the most important water pollution case in California in quite a few years," said David Beckman, a senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and lead counsel for conservation groups that intervened in the case. "This decision says it's results that matter not just effort. It gives teeth to our water quality laws. It says that if water is contaminated, polluters must apply more stringent techniques until the water is actually clean."

Urban runoff is the biggest source of pollution in California's coastal water, rivers, streams and lakes. In recent years, the building industry has challenged water pollution cleanup plans meant to curtail urban runoff, arguing that they may not be used to force builders, businesses and municipalities to meet water quality standards but only to make an effort at cleanup.

"If that were true, it would seriously undermine efforts to control the biggest source of water pollution in the state," said Mr. Beckman. "Today, the Court of Appeal completely rejected that argument; it told everyone they're going to have to clean up their act and conduct themselves in a way that's friendlier to the ocean."

"We are thrilled to see the court uphold San Diego's groundbreaking stormwater permit, which has already had a positive impact on the health of local waters," said Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego BayKeeper. The BayKeeper is an intervenor in the case along with NRDC and the California CoastKeeper Alliance.