Refusal to Hear San Diego Case Will Result in Cleaner Beaches, Rivers and Lakes Throughout California

LOS ANGELES (March 30, 2005) -- The California Supreme Court has refused to overturn a major clean water ruling of the California Court of Appeal, letting stand the unanimous decision of a three judge panel issued in San Diego last December. The Supreme Court refused to disturb the Court of Appeal's decision that state regulators can apply California's water quality standards, which set purity thresholds for "clean water," to polluted runoff, and not just to sewage treatment plants and factory discharges. Polluted runoff is the largest source of water pollution in California, carrying with it toxins, bacteria and pathogens, among other pollutants.

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

The decision came in a case in San Diego, where in 2001 builders challenged the ability of environmental officials to apply state clean water standards to discharges from city storm drains. San Diego regulators, who have now been followed by regulators throughout California (including the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento), included in a San Diego County water clean up plan the requirement that storm water dischargers meet clean water standards. This requirement replaced older approaches where dischargers of polluted runoff merely had to make an effort to reduce contaminated runoff, irrespective of the actual result of those efforts.

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.

"This is one of the most important water pollution cases ever to be decided in California," 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."

"The Supreme Court's decision vindicates the actions of local environmental officials in adopting a clean water plan that is reducing pollution of local waters," said Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego BayKeeper, an intervenor in the case along with NRDC and the California CoastKeeper Alliance. "We are thrilled that what started here in San Diego will now benefit people throughout California."