The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a dispute between Los Angeles County and two environmental groups over water pollution.
The court will review a lower court decision ruling the county and its flood control body are responsible for harmful stormwater runoff from two major L.A. rivers into the ocean.
In 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Santa Monica Baykeeper sued Los Angeles County for neglecting to control pollution from stormwater runoff from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers.
Over 30 percent of known contamination sources to L.A. beaches come from stormwater runoff, which occurs when precipitation from rain or snowmelt flows over the ground, picking up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants.
These pollutants then flow into a storm sewer system or directly to a lake, stream, river, wetland, or coastal water.
"Anything that enters a storm sewer system is discharged untreated into the waterbodies we use for swimming, fishing and providing drinking water," according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Los Angeles Flood Control District claim they are not responsible for the stormwater pollution, stating they control only the drainage system and not the source of the pollutants, which originate with citizens, businesses and factories.
"This presents another opportunity to demonstrate the County's ongoing attempts to avoid responsibility for pollution in Los Angeles," Santa Monica Baykeeper Executive Director Liz Crosson said in a statement Monday.
She added, "We are confident the Court will uphold the circuit court's decision that LA County must finally address its pollution problem. It is time that L.A. County is held accountable for the public health impacts and ecological damage its stormwater pollution creates."
In March 2010, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the district was responsible for the runoff pollution. The Supreme Court will consider a much narrow question, namely, whether water flowing through the district's concrete flood control system can be considered a "discharge" under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
"The CWA made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained [and] requires municipalities and major industries to meet performance standards to ensure pollution control," according to EPA.
If the Supreme Court rules the stormwater runoff pollution is in fact a "discharge," the county will be deemed responsible for the maintenance and clean up of the stormwater runoff before it reaches the ocean.
"We look forward to presenting our arguments to the Court, and we believe that all of the evidence and the previous court rulings confirm the County's history of Clean Water Act violations," NRDC Senior Attorney Steve Fleischli said Monday.
He added, "We want the County to clean up its rivers and beaches and we'll fight to address this persistent pollution problem, which affects millions of people who visit and enjoy L.A.'s popular beaches each year."
The appeal's oral arguments will be heard during the court's October 2012 term.
by RTT Staff Writer
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