NRDC/WaterKeeper Challenge to 2012 Los Angeles Municipal Storm Water Permit Denied

Water Quality Law  

February 9, 2017

On January 24, 2017, the Los Angeles Superior Court denied the petition for writ of mandamus filed by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Los Angeles WaterKeeper.  At issue in this case was the 2012 municipal storm water permit issued by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to various municipalities allowing them to legally discharge storm water to waterbodies within Los Angeles County.  NRDC and WaterKeeper alleged that the permit violated rules on backsliding, antidegradation, and compliance schedules.  The court found that the antibacksliding provisions of the Clean Water Act do not apply to municipal storm water and, even if these provisions applied, the 2012 permit was exempt because of the “new information” exception contained in the law.
The court further denied the challenge on antidegradation grounds, holding that the receiving waters are not of high quality and the permit is more stringent than its predecessor; thus, additional degradation is not occurring. Consistent with the State Water Board’s Resolution 68-16, the court upheld the finding that any degradation that would occur was necessary to accommodate important economic or social development and is, therefore, of maximum benefit to the people of the State. The court found that a simple antidegradation analysis was all that was needed where, as in this case, a regional board determines “the reduction in water quality is temporally limited and will not result in any long-term deleterious effects on water quality.” Finally, the court held that the compliance schedules in the 2012 permit are not subject to the California Toxics Rule’s provisions since that rule did not apply to municipal storm water.  
This case represents just one of the several challenges to the 2012 Los Angeles municipal storm water permit, and the only one filed by the environmental community.  The remaining challenges were filed by municipalities regulated under the permit, appealing the cost and stringency of the new permit.  Those challenges have not yet been decided.