LA Flood Control District Asks Supreme Court to Review Stormwater Liability Ruling

In a Jan. 24 certiorari petition, the Los Angeles County Flood Control District asks the U.S. Supreme Court to rule again on whether the district is liable for exceeding water quality limits in protected waters.

The district participates in a multijurisdictional stormwater permit, and data cannot conclusively show that excess water pollution is coming from the district as opposed to upstream communities. Because liability among discharges could not be established, in 2011 — in Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) — the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found the district liable based on transfers within channelized portions of the river to which it discharges. However, in early 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that transfers within a water body do not require a permit. The case was remanded back to the 9th Circuit for further proceedings. In August 2013, the appellate court ruled in NRDC’s favor, using logic overturned in the original 2011 case to find the district responsible for the pollution.

The district writes in its petition that this decision creates nationwide uncertainty for participants in multijurisdictional stormwater permits. Further, the ruling will weigh more heavily on both regulators and the regulated community in planning, implementing, and operating stormwater systems because there are relatively few appellate decisions addressing liability for municipal stormwater discharge.

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