Los Angeles Faces New River Clean-up Orders

In an emergency order Monday, Los Angeles County has again been told it must clean up waterways polluted by stormwater runoff and the chemical pollutants that it picks up on the way to local rivers.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the Natural Resources Defense Council claims for an injunction to force Los Angeles County to adhere to terms of a 2012 water pollution clean-up plan for the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers.

waterpolluteThe NRDC brought the case in 2008, alleging violation of the Clean Water Act, and the dispute has already gone to the U.S. Supreme Court and back again to the trial and appeals court.

In the latest round NRDC challenged the trial court’s dismissal of its injunction request as moot. The 9th Circuit held Monday the request was not moot and sent the case back to the trial judge.

The case challenged the Los Angeles-area clean-up of stormwater pollution, created when rainwater mixes with debris, chemicals and other pollutants that flow into storm sewer systems and then into the rivers. Any pollutants in the storm sewer system are discharged, largely untreated into waters used for swimming, fishing and recreation.

Billions of gallons of this untreated stormwater pollution ultimately hits popular beaches, causing local residents and tourists to become ill, according to the lawsuit.

NRDC, along with Santa Monica Baykeeper, contend the pollution can be prevented through deployment of green infrastruction, such as on-site water capture and filtration.

NRDC contends the county has failed to implement the improvements as required by the 2012 permit.  Earlier litigation challenged alleged failure to meet terms of a 2001 permit.

Failure Likely

The NRDC provided evidence suggesting cleanup efforts are unlikely to succeed because the county has not imposed stormwater utility fees and thus agencies have no dedicated revenue stream to pay for implementing the Watershed Management Program (WMP).

“Until the county defendants have fished the process of financing and implementing the WMPs, there is a significant likelihood that they will be subject top and violate the baseline receiving water limitations,” the appeals court said.

Case: NRDC v. County of Los Angeles,   No. 15-55562

2011, 9th Circuit Orders County to Clean up Pollution  

2013, 9th Circuit again orders clean-up 

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