Supreme Court Saves Cities from Costly Expenses to Operate Storm Water Systems

January 10, 2013

By Stephanie Crandall

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court protected local governments when it unanimously held that the Los Angeles County Flood Control District (District) was not liable under the Clean Water Act (CWA) for contaminated runoff that its storm drains channeled into larger rivers, and eventually the Pacific Ocean.

Reversing a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the Supreme Court determined that channeling water from a navigable river into a separate manmade channel, and then back into the river after the flow crossed into another jurisdiction, did not constitute a "discharge of a pollutant" to trigger certain costly CWA requirements. Had the lower court's decision been upheld, local governments could have paid more to operate storm water systems that accept and transport storm water and urban runoff.

In the case Los Angeles County Flood Control Dist. v. Natural Recourses Defense Council, Inc., NLC joined with the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties in filing an amicus brief with the Court to argue that no pollutants are "added" to a water body when water is merely transferred between different portions of the same water body.