A unanimous decision by the Supreme Court today sided with the Los Angeles County Flood District on the debate over pollution from urban runoff.
On the question of "Does the flow of water out of a concrete channel within a river rank as a 'discharge of a pollutant'? The Supreme Court says "no." The court based its opinion on a previous finding from 2004's South Florida Water Management District versus Miccosukee Tribe, in which "we accepted that pumping polluted water from one part of a water body into another part of the same body is not a discharge of pollutants under the Clean Water Act." It then reversed the Ninth Circuit decision, which was in favor of environmentalists.
The original lawsuit was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Santa Monica Baykeeper in 2008. It sought to hold local governments accountable for untreated stormwater runoff that picks up high levels of pollutants on its way to the ocean.
"The court actually made a very narrow opinion and did not determine that the county is not responsible for its pollution. In fact, it didn't close the door. The county is still responsible for pollution that leaves its stormdrains and reaches the waterways in Los Angeles," says Liz Crosson, Santa Monica Baykeeper Executive Director. The group is currently evaluating its options to see what are its most viable next steps.