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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Appellate Court Rules County Can’t Be Held Liable for Malibu Creek Pollution

• NRDC Lawsuit Fares Better on Other Polluted Waterways

BY BILL KOENEKER


The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed part of a lower court decision in an opinion issued last week finding that Los Angeles County is responsible for untreated stormwater runoff it allows in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers.
However, it stopped short of issuing the same ruling for two additional waterways, the Santa Clara River and Malibu Creek, indicating the evidence did not pinpoint the county.
The lawsuit was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Santa Monica Baykeeper. Both parties have a similar lawsuit pending in the court against the City of Malibu and other municipalities.
In its decision, the three-judge panel agreed with NRDC and the Baykeeper that the county— through its flood control district—has been illegally discharging polluted water into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers under its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, according to the NRDC.
The lower court had sided with the county, ruling that the plaintiffs had not provided enough evidence that the pollutants had been under the defendant’s control.
Both the NRDC and the Baykeeper, who appealed the trial court’s opinion, claimed victory over their partial win.
“The court’s decision should be celebrated by all who value coastal and aquatic resources like recreation, natural habitats and scenic beauty,” according to Liz Crosson, the executive director of Baykeeper.
“This decision is a critical step towards addressing water pollution in major Los Angeles waterways,” Crosson added.
The ruling affirms that the county must do more to improve water quality and protect public health and the environment.
As a remedy for the violations identified by the court, NRDC and the Baykeeper indicated they will seek a court order requiring the county to reduce runoff pollution to levels that protect public health and the environment, according to a press release issued by the NRDC.
“For years, the county claimed that it could never be held accountable for its toxic discharges. All that changes with this ruling,” said Aaron Colangelo, a senior attorney with NRDC.
When it rains in Los Angeles, billions of gallons of water pour into the county’s storm drains possibly carrying bacteria, pathogens, animal waste, metals, oils and other pollutants, which flow untreated into the Pacific Ocean and onto Southern California beaches.
The NRDC maintains that stormwater runoff is the primary known source of pollution at beaches nationwide.

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