Results, not Intentions, Should Be the Yardstick to Clean L.A. Rivers and Beaches

LOS ANGELES (November 6, 2006) -- The California Court of Appeal issued today an order modifying its opinion in a decision issued last month regarding the authority of state regulators and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require cities to show actual results, measured in cleaner water, in their efforts to clean up storm water runoff, the leading source of water pollution in Southern California.

Last month, the Court ruled in favor of environmentalists with respect to all but one issue, regarding the process regulators had to follow before issuing water pollution clean up plans. Today's modified opinion addressed that issue, and it rejected claims of local cities that the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board had violated state law in 2001 when it issued new storm water clean up plans to local cities and developers.

This was the most extensive legal challenge ever filed against a polluted storm water cleanup plan in California. The County of Los Angeles, along with a coalition of 32 cities, and building groups, filed the lawsuit attempting to invalidate the requirements to control urban runoff. In rejecting the plaintiffs' main claim that the permit was too difficult or costly to implement, the Court stated, in part, in its original ruling, that "we agree with [the environmental groups] that plaintiffs in making these assertions have failed in every respect to set forth all of the relevant evidence."

With its new order modifying its opinion, the court has now upheld in its entirely the 2001 clean up plan issued by the Regional Water Board. The Court has further put to rest the argument that polluters and city officials had only to try to reduce the contaminated runoff in order to meet their legal obligations.

"This decision makes it clear to all that clean water is the yardstick that matters," said David Beckman, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and lead trial attorney on the case. NRDC also represented local environmental groups Santa Monica Baykeeper and Heal the Bay.

Storm water runoff is the largest source of coastal water pollution in California. The L.A. County storm water cleanup plan, issued under the federal Clean Water Act, includes new measures such as drain filters, silt-removal basins, and more rigorous inspections of industrial facilities. The plan also improves on past storm water control efforts by requiring measurable improvement in coastal water quality, and not merely effort, by cities, industry, and developers, all of whom have responsibilities under the plan.

One of the most important aspects of the original decision is the rejection of the argument that California's water quality standards, which set purity thresholds for "clean water," did not apply to polluted runoff, but only to sewage treatment plants and factory discharges. The court upheld the authority of state regulators to require both cities and builders to implement and develop control measures to meet these standards, which apply to pathogens, toxins and other pollutants.