Court Restores Order: Decision Jeopardizing California Water Quality is Reversed

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jessica Lass at 310-434-2300 (main), jlass@nrdc.org

Court Restores Order: Decision Jeopardizing California Water Quality is Reversed

Major water pollution ruling restores focus on science and protection of public health

LOS ANGELES - The California Court of Appeal yesterday reversed a trial court
decision that threatened clean water standards protecting Southern
California waters, including its world-famous beaches, and millions of
people who use them every year. The unanimous 3-0 ruling restores the
water board's authority to implement health-protective measures reducing
California's worst source of water pollution, stormwater runoff, in Los
Angeles and Ventura counties.

"This decision will protect millions of people who use local
beaches and water resources throughout Southern California and assures
that science remains the focus when these standards are developed," said
David Beckman, lead counsel and director of NRDC's national Water
program. "Water quality standards play a pivotal role in pollution
control because they serve as legal limits on the amount of dangerous
pollutants, such as bacteria and toxic chemicals, which can flow into
and contaminate local waterways."

NRDC, on behalf of itself, Heal the Bay, and Santa Monica
Baykeeper, intervened in the case in 2008 after the Superior Court
issued a decision that would have stripped the water board's authority
to enforce pollution limits to control stormwater pollution, ruling that
the water board did not follow proper state regulation when it
established limits for Los Angeles and Ventura County waterways.

The Court of Appeal overturned the Superior Court decision in
a 29-page ruling, agreeing with the environmental groups' positions,
including that the federal Clean Water Act requires state water boards
to protect water quality by adopting science-based measures to reduce
water pollution in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Specifically, the
Court found that the water board's actions were compelled by the federal
Clean Water Act, and state law could not be used to justify imposing
lower water quality levels.

"Importantly, the Court of Appeal also confirmed that water
bodies must be protected from pollution, regardless of its source, which
is a win for public health and Southern California waterways," said
Michelle Mehta, NRDC staff attorney who worked on the case.

When it rains in Los Angeles, billions of gallons of water
pour into the City's storm drains and, carrying bacteria, pathogens,
animal waste, metals, oils, and other pollutants, flow untreated into
the Pacific Ocean and onto our beaches. A recent NRDC report found that
in 2009, stormwater runoff was the primary known source of pollution at
beaches nationwide, consistent with past years.

Stormwater pollution makes people vulnerable to a range of
waterborne illnesses including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear,
nose, and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments,
neurological disorders, and other serious health problems. For senior
citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems, the
results can be fatal.

Background:

On December 9, 2005, a coalition of 21 cities in Los Angeles
County, as well as the Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation,
brought a lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board and
Los Angeles Regional Quality Control Board (Cities of Arcadia et al. v. State Water Resources Control Board et al.),
alleging that water quality standards in the Los Angeles Basin Plan
were not developed and applied to stormwater in accordance with
California law, and contending economic impacts must be considered. The
cities and the Building Industry sought to prevent the water boards from
applying the water quality standards to stormwater, an outcome that
would be extremely detrimental to the water boards' efforts to regulate
polluted runoff that fouls Los Angeles waterways. NRDC, Heal the Bay,
and Santa Monica Baykeeper intervened in July 2008 after the Superior
Court issued a decision in favor of Plaintiffs.

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The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

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