California Court Overturns Decision on Water Board's Authority
Court ruled that water board could implement rules on storm water pollution
The California Court of Appeal yesterday reversed a trial court decision regarding clean water standards protecting Southern California waters, including its beaches. The unanimous three-to-zero ruling restores the water board's authority to implement health-protective measures to reduce pollution from storm water 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 the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) 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 storm water pollution, ruling that the water board did not follow proper state regulations when it established limits for Los Angeles and Ventura county waterways.
According to NRDC, the Court of Appeal overturned the Superior Court decision in a 29-page ruling stating that the federal Clean Water Act requires state water boards to protect water quality by adopting science-based measures to reduce water pollution. 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, an 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 beaches. A recent NRDC report found that in 2009, storm water runoff was the primary known source of pollution at beaches nationwide, consistent with past years.