Posts Tagged ‘Clean Water Act’


The Second District Court of Appeal in Conway v. State Water Resources Control Board rejected claims that the Regional Water Quality Control Board improperly established “total maximum daily loads” or TMDLs. The court also rejected challenges to the Board’s compliance with CEQA in establishing TMDLs.

The Clean Water Act requires all states to identify polluted water bodies within their jurisdictions. For all such water bodies the state must set TMDLs, which is the maximum amount of pollutants (or load) that a water body can receive from point and nonpoint sources. The Regional Water Quality Control Board has established the TMDLs for pollutants in McGrath Lake. McGrath Lake is surrounded primarily by agricultural fields, as well as petroleum facilities, public roads, and a former landfill. The lake including its lake bed sediment is polluted with pesticides and polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs).

Owners of private property on the lake will likely be held responsible for remediation of the pollution. They challenged the TMDL established for the lake, arguing that it may only be stated in terms of pollutants in the water. They contend the TMDL is impermissibly stated in terms of concentration of pollutants in lake bed sediment. On this basis, the petitioners argued that the TMDLs violate the Clean Water Act and the state Water Code. They also argued that the TMDL was adopted in violation of the CEQA. The trial court denied their petition for a writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal Sixth Appellate District affirmed, holding that for the purposes of establishing TMDL the lake is both its water and its sediment.

Petitioners’ unsuccessful theory was that  TMDL can only regulate the movement of pollutants into the water column, pointing out that the Code of Federal Regulations definition of a “Load” as the “amount of matter [contaminants] introduced into a receiving water.”

The court was not convinced. The court noted that in this case the sediment is wet, it is intermixed with the lake waters, and thus it is part of the lake. The Regional Board could reasonably determine that the lake bed sediment is not a distinct physical environment. Instead, the lake waters and the lake bed sediment form a single physical environment. Notably, pollutants in the sediment leach into the water. The court also noted that the federal regulations give the Board expansive authority for defining how TMDLs are measured, as appropriate to the circumstances: “TMDLs can be expressed in terms of either mass per time, toxicity, or other appropriate measure.”

Petitioners further argued that “other appropriate measure” for measuring TMDL could not include measurement by concentration in the sediment. Petitioners argued that this would present a “slippery slope” towards expansive regulation of activities on land, such as regulation of pesticide use on agricultural land.

The court seemed unwilling to follow petitioners down this rabbithole, reasoning: “But slipping down the slope stops where application of a law or regulation becomes unreasonable.”  If it would be unreasonable or absurd to interpret the Clean Water Act and its implementing regulations as applying to land miles from the lake, the law and regulations will not be so interpreted, it held. But this case was not concerned with land miles from the lake, but with the lake bed itself.

The court also rejected, in fairly summary terms, Petitioners’ CEQA challenge. Essentially, Petitioners argued that the Board, which complies with CEQA through a certified regulatory program, had to consider the impacts of whatever remediation activities would be needed to reach the established TMDLs. Petitioners further argued that “dredging” was the only feasible remediation technique, and so the Board had to evaluate the impacts of dredging. The court disagreed. It noted that the adoption of TMDLs was only the first step in the process. The environmental review for that was appropriately tiered, according to the court. The Board had neither planned nor proposed to adopt any particular method for cleanup at this time. Without discussing whether cleanup ought to be at least disclosed as a reasonably future phase of the Project, the court summarily dismissed the CEQA claims. It held cleanup was a decision for the future, and would be subject to further environmental review in the future.

 

In a newly issued Biological Opinion, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has reversed its 2012 finding that the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) streamlined nationwide permitting program could result in jeopardy under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Nationwide permits govern actions that have limited environmental impacts, and streamlining is intended to expedite the permitting process for those actions. In contrast, activities the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) determines may discharge dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, but do not qualify for coverage under a nationwide permit, must be authorized under individual 404 permits.

NMFS emphasized that though streamlining of nationwide permits is now considered acceptable under the ESA, new measures promulgated by the Corps will ensure species are protected. These measures include amending notification requirements, holding semi-annual staff meetings, and improving tracking of the permits’ authorized activities. The Corps also plans to issue guidance specifying that regulated entities must report injuries or death of certain marine species listed under the ESA.

The Corps’ new rules will require pre-construction notifications for activities in jurisdictional waters where impervious surface materials will be used and where the waters are inhabited by listed species or are designated critical habitat under the species law. The Corps also plans to modify a nationwide permit covering utility lines and authorization of some oil and gas infrastructure. The oil and gas industry is concerned that the Biological Opinion might result in limitations on the permit, creating an impasse on new energy infrastructure.

On October 24, 2012, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s ruling in Albert Garland v. Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (2012) __Cal.App.4th__ (Case No. C067130). The case involves the question of whether the discharge of stormwater with sediment from a residential construction into adjacent ephemeral drainages encompassing swales, ditches, and culverts that eventually connected to waters of the United States was sufficient to trigger Clean Water Act violations under the federal Clean Water Act.

The trial court denied a petition for writ of administrative mandate challenging a $250,000 administrative civil liability (ACL) order issued against petitioner by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Board) for permit violations of the Clean Water Act (Act). The court affirmed the judgment, holding that the order was authorized even under the view in Rapanos v. United States (2006) 547 U.S. 715 that most narrowly reads the Act’s jurisdiction. In issuing the ACL order against petitioner, the Board found that the ephemeral drainages, into which petitioner discharged the construction site stormwater runoff, were tributaries to downstream navigable waters.

The discharge in question encompassed 641,000 gallons of sediment-laden stormwater flowing off the sides of a residential subdivision construction site being developed by Garland. The Board showed that a $250,000 ACL order could have been based on as little as 25,000 gallons of polluted discharge under Water Code, section 13385. The stormwater flowed into ephemeral drainages adjacent to the construction site, which are tributaries of the Feather River and the Thermalito Afterbay.

The board argued that regardless of whether the ephemeral drainages at issue constituted waters of the United States, Garland should remain liable for discharging pollutants into waters of the United Stated under the alternative rationale for the ACL order that the discharge traveled through point sources to waters of the United States. The District Court of Appeal concluded that the Board acted properly in issuing the ACL order against Garland on that basis.