Melissa A. Thorme

Melissa A. Thorme


Melissa A. Thorme


For nearly 30 years, industrial and municipal clients have regularly turned to Melissa Thorme to assist in resolving their environmental compliance issues and negotiating or litigating their regulatory enforcement actions.

She counsels numerous businesses, including small manufacturing companies, marinas and boat yards, ports, lumber companies, contractors, auto dismantlers, agricultural entities, and oil field waste disposal facilities, in addition to sanitation districts, counties, and cities throughout California on matters related to NPDES, storm water, wastewater, and recycled water discharge permitting and waivers, TMDLs, and enforcement actions brought by regulatory agencies or in Clean Water Act/Prop. 65 citizen suits. She also assists with storm water drainage matters for public agencies, vineyards, food processors, and equine and dairy businesses.

With a specific focus on storm water and wastewater regulatory compliance issues, Melissa has successfully negotiated or challenged numerous discharge permits and enforcement actions before administrative agencies and in state and federal courts, with two consolidated permit appeal cases for the cities of Los Angeles and Burbank receiving a published opinion in the California Supreme Court.

Melissa has also successfully litigated challenges to invalidate state and U.S. EPA water quality standards set in the Central Valley and Los Angeles regions, and has negotiated many settlement agreements for various clients. In addition to water-related law, Melissa also has experience in complex litigation, CEQA, land use planning, real estate transactions, site investigation and remediation, endangered species compliance, 404 dredge and fill projects, and 401 certification processing.


  • Successfully prosecuted an industrial discharger before the Steering Committee of a southern California Sanitation District that violated local ordinances and its sewer use permit, securing substantial administrative penalties and permit revocation. 
  • Settled a $4 million dollar initial Administrative Civil Liability Complaint for Mandatory Minimum Penalties (MMPs) for a small mutual water company in Lake County for a suspended penalty amount of $2.8 million that was completely expunged after the client converted its company into a non-profit and received over $2.5 million in State grant funds to be spent on upgrading its drinking water treatment plant.
  • Challenged the water quality standards for salinity applicable in the Southern Delta in state court on behalf of a Central Valley city and succeeded in receiving a writ of mandate instructing the State Water Resources Control Board to review and revise the standards in accordance with state law, namely Water Code sections 13241 and 13242.
  • Succeeded in extricating the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitaton, a county, a city, a sanitation agency, and at least three industrial storm water clients from Clean Water Act citizen suits without any litigation or the need for a settlement, and settled numerous other cases for industrial and municipal clients in storm water and sewer spill cases.
  • Settled a proposed Administrative Civil Liability of over $1 million for a single sewer spill for $130,000, plus $120,000 in suspended penalties if this small Central Valley city completes Enhanced Compliance projects aimed at avoiding future spills.
  • Tried a multiple week breach of contract case in Federal district court for a public utilities district in Southern California and received a decision finding bad faith breach of contract.  The case involved numerous issues relating to engineering, water quality, and regulatory requirements under state and federal law.
  • Drafted amicus curiae briefs for the League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, and the National League of Cities before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Natural Resources Defense Council v. Los Angeles County Flood Control District case (USSC Case No. 11-460 – argued December 4, 2012 with ruling on January 8, 2013) and in support of additional review (USSC Case No. 13-901).
  • Challenged U.S. EPA’s approval and disapproval of water quality standards the Los Angeles Region in Federal court and succeeded in removing the municipal drinking water (MUN) use from waterways in that region that had only been conditionally designated and gaining clarity on regulating using narrative water quality objectives.
  • Appealed NPDES permits for the cities of Burbank and Los Angeles all the way to the California Supreme Court in the City of Burbank v. Statewater Resources Control Board case, which resulted in a ruling requiring the Water Boards to perform additional state law analysis if requirements more stringent than required by federal law are included in discharge permits.
  • Represented a Central Coast wastewater treatment plant in a 17-hour adjudicatory hearing before the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board over a million dollar Administrative Civil Liability Complaint related to a sewer spill that occurred during a declared flood emergency.  The matter is pending review by the State Water Resources Control Board.
  • Specialized expertise in water quality based on a solid science background, which provides a unique understanding of chemical, biological, and ecological ramifications of water quality policies and regulation, as well as a clear understanding of the regulations and their history.
  • Substantial Federal court litigation experience, including discovery, taking and defending fact and expert witness depositions, briefing, and oral advocacy.
  • Extensive State court experience, including writ practice in Superior Courts and substantial appellate advocacy experience briefing and arguing cases before California Appellate Courts and the California Supreme Court as counsel to parties and amicus curiae.
  • Negotiated scores of achievable NPDES permits for municipal and industrial storm water and wastewater discharges throughout California, as well as agricultural waivers, Section 404 permits, 401 Certifications, and waste discharge requirements for dredging projects.
  • Administratively and judicially challenged unlawful or unreasonable provisions in numerous NPDES permits for publicly owned treatment plants and municipal separate storm sewer systems where reasonable permits could not be negotiated.
  • Defended and settled administrative NPDES permit enforcement actions and Mandatory Minimum Penalty (MMP) actions related to water quality, and citizen suits filed under the Clean Water Act (CWA), Prop 65, and the Resource Conservative and Recovery Act (RCRA) against municipal and industrial clients. Several enforcement defense matters resulted in no penalty or a substantially reduced penalty to the client.
  • Commented on, negotiated the terms of, or litigated several Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), including for chloride, trash, nitrogen, bacteria, mercury, and pesticides, and Site Specific Objectives (SSOs), including for copper, nickel, and cyanide.
  • Successfully litigated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) cases, including one in Federal court. In other situations, helped draft environmental documents that were never challenged.

Professional, Community And Pro Bono Involvement

  • American Bar Association, 1991-Present
  • State Bar of California, Environmental Law and Litigation Sections
  • Sacramento County Bar Association, Environmental Law Section
  • Putah Creek Council, Board Member and Vice Chair
  • Santa Lucia Preserve Community Services District, Advisor
  • Downey Brand LLP, Executive Committee Member
  • California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA), Attorneys Committee and Federal Legislative Committee
  • California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA) Member
  • California Department of Real Estate, Salespersons License, 1986-2019; Broker, 2019-Present
  • Norwood 4-H Club (Yolo County), Community Club Leader, 2012-2014; 4-H Project Leader 2004-2015
  • Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), Clean Water Sub-Committee and TMDL Workgroup, Former Chair
  • Sacramento River Toxic Pollutant Control Program Subcommittees, Former Facilitator
  • Riparian Improvement Organization (RIO), Former President
  • Tulane University School of Law, Environmental Advocacy class, Former Instructor and Environmental Law Fellow/Co-Director of Environmental Law Clinic

Honors And Rankings

  • AV Preeminent® Rating by Martindale-Hubbell®
  • The Martindale-Hubbell® Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers
  • Best Lawyers® 2018 Water Law "Lawyer of the Year" in Sacramento
  • Best Lawyers in America©, Water Law, 2008-2020
  • Sacramento Magazine, Top Lawyer, Environmental, Energy & Natural Resources, 2015-2019
  • Super Lawyers, Northern California Super Lawyer, Environmental Litigation, 2006, 2012-2013, 2016-2019
  • Best Lawyers, Women in the Law, 2016
  • Recipient of two LiFE awards for environmental literature
  • Roscoe Hogan Environmental Law Essay Contest, Winner
  • LEXIS Excellence in Writing Award, Winner

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