Melissa A. Thorme

Partner

For over 25 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 marinas and boat yards, lumber companies, contractors, auto dismantlers, small manufacturing companies, agricultural entities, and oil field waste disposal facilities, in addition to sanitation districts, counties, and cities throughout California on matters related to NPDES, waste, 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 stormwater drainage matters for public agencies, vineyards, food processors, and equine and dairy businesses.

With a specific focus on stormwater 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.


Professional, Community And Pro Bono Involvement

  • American Bar Association, 1991- present
  • State Bar of California, Environmental Law Section
  • Sacramento County Bar Association, Environmental Law Section
  • Putah Creek Council, Board Member
  • The 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)
  • Central Valley Clean Water Association
  • California Department of Real Estate, Salespersons License Holder since 1986
  • Norwood 4-H Club (Yolo County), Community Club Leader, 2012-2014; 4-H Project Leader 2004-present
  • 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 & 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
  • 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 two industrial stormwater 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 stormwater 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) 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.

In the News


Press Releases


Speaking Engagements / Events

  • September 28-29, 2016
    What To Know For The Next Wet Season And Beyond
    Presenter, Storm Water Awareness Week Webcasts
  • April 7, 2016
    Use of Recycled Oil Field Wastewater for Irrigation of Food Crops
    Co-presenter, Tchobanoglous Water Lecture
  • April 3, 2016
    History of Monticello Dam
    Moderator, Celebrate Putah Creek Conference
  • February 2016
    The Battle Over Chronic Toxicity Testing
    Presenter, ACWA Water Quality Committee Meeting
  • December 15, 2014
    Industrial Stormwater Issues
    Panelist, California League of Food Processors
  • October 15, 2014
    Clean Water Act Liability
    Presenter, CWEA Operators Conference
  • September 15, 2014
    Stormwater Showdown
    Presenter, Citizen Suit Enforcement - Stormwater Awareness Week
  • May 20, 2014
    Legal Update on Storm Water Regulation
    Presenter, League of California Cities, 2014 City Attorneys' Spring Conference
  • February 2014
    Complying with Storm Water Requirements
    Presenter, Association of General Contractors Legal Meeting
  • January 2014
    Cross-Disciplinary Issues Related to the Regulation of Waste Water Storm Water
    Presenter, Downey Brand CLE
  • December 2013
    Your ‘Stay Out of Jail’ Card – Learn about Clean Water Act Compliance
    Presenter, Nevada Water Laws and Regulations
  • November 2013
    Complying with Stormwater and Surface Water Management Regulations
    Presenter, Current Issues in Water Law Conference
  • September 2013
    Receiving Water Limitations Lessons and Litigation
    Co-presenter, California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA) Conference
  • April 23, 2013
    Nitrates in Groundwater – The New Water Quality Battleground
    Presenter, Argent Communications 28th Annual California Water Law & Policy Conference
  • November 2012
    Citizens versus Stormwater: the Malibu Citizen Suit Litigation
    Co-presenter, California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA) Conference
  • September 2012
    Water in the Vineyard: The World of Overlapping Regulation
    Co-presenter, CEB Wine Law Forum
  • June 2012
    Educational Seminar on the Vineyard Waiver
    Presenter, Winegrowers of Napa County
  • October 2011
    Is It Really Toxic? – Panel on Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) Regulation
    Panelist, ABA Environment, Energy, and Resources Law Summit
  • August 2011
    Fighting Back – Defending a Citizen Lawsuit
    Presenter, California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA) Annual Conference
  • May 2011
    Legal Perspective: Permitting Developments and Recent Court Decisions
    Presenter, Central Valley Clean Water Association
  • 2010
    Horror Stories from Further West: Clean Water Act Compliance Issues
    Presenter, Nevada Water Laws and Regulations
  • 2010
    Permit Negotiation Tools
    Presenter, California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA) Conference
  • 2010
    Sewer Overflows, Storm Water and Citizen Suits: Things You Need to Know
    Presenter, Contra Costa County City Attorneys' Association Membership Luncheon
  • 2010
    Understanding Antibacksliding and Antidegradation
    Presenter, California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA) 6th Annual Conference

Legal Alerts


Publications

In addition to practicing law and having a family, Melissa spends her free-time as a weekend equestrienne, real estate agent, 4-H leader, and aspiring best-selling writer.  Working on publishing her third novel and fourth book, she has previously published two legal thrillers under the pen name, M. T. Kingsley, entitled “With Malicious Intent” and “Strictly Liable.”  She also published a non-fiction travel journal with her two (at that time) pre-teen daughters about their 2009 Summer sabbatical called “The Best Worst Summer Ever.”  All of the proceeds from the sales of her books go to charity, including the Anne B. Kingsley Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation that raises money to fund research for early detection of ovarian cancer, which prematurely took the life of her mother-in-law. Melissa loves to travel and hopes to one day become a spa critic when she ultimately retires from law practice.


Professional, Community And Pro Bono Involvement

  • American Bar Association, 1991- present
  • State Bar of California, Environmental Law Section
  • Sacramento County Bar Association, Environmental Law Section
  • Putah Creek Council, Board Member
  • The 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)
  • Central Valley Clean Water Association
  • California Department of Real Estate, Salespersons License Holder since 1986
  • Norwood 4-H Club (Yolo County), Community Club Leader, 2012-2014; 4-H Project Leader 2004-present
  • 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 & 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