NRDC, Baykeeper Sue for Measurable Results
The county of Los Angeles and the city of Malibu in California must stop bacteria and toxins from flowing into coastal waters where they sicken beachgoers and damage marine life, according to two lawsuits filed March 3 in federal court by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Santa Monica Baykeeper.
In the past, courts have required local governments to take steps to reduce urban runoff, which is the top source of coastal water pollution, but today's lawsuits are the first attempt to hold governments accountable for measurable results.
"Year after year, the county's own data show that pollutants ranging from cyanide to fecal bacteria are flowing into local waters at levels the law forbids," said David Beckman, director of the Coastal Water Quality Project at NRDC. "It's time to stop going through the motions of fighting water pollution, and actually clean up the water."
The lawsuits also seek to enforce a "no discharge" rule meant to protect a coastal preserve in the waters off northern Los Angeles County. The requirements are contained in a Clean Water Act permit issued to the county, Malibu, and other cities in 2001 by the state of California's Regional Water Quality Control Board. The lawsuits were brought under the federal Clean Water Act.
As part of its permit duties, Los Angeles County must test the quality of runoff flowing into local waters, such as Santa Monica Bay. The county's own data confirm it is ignoring permit standards that impose specific limits on the amount of pollution it can discharge into Malibu Creek, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and San Gabriel rivers. The county also has failed to report high pollution levels and implement corrective action.
"Santa Monica Bay is one of the most extraordinary coastal estuaries on the west coast of North America, and it is high time the county, the agency most responsible for its protection, acted like it was a resource worth protecting," stated Tom Ford, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper.
The Mugu to Latigo coastal preserve, one of 34 Areas of Special Biological Significance in California, stretches from Mugu Lagoon in Ventura County to Latigo Point in Malibu. These areas are afforded special protection by the state of California's Ocean Plan, which prohibits any pollution discharges into or near these areas. However, Santa Monica Baykeeper's water quality sampling found that, for example, bacteria levels in discharges from county pipes exceeded those set in the Ocean Plan.