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Court upholds Southern California storm water runoff standards

December 15, 2010 |  8:28 am

A state appeals court ruled Tuesday that Los Angeles and Ventura counties can enforce water-quality standards designed to protect the region's beaches from polluted runoff, regardless of the cost to local governments and contractors.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal overturned a 2008 ruling in favor of Arcadia, 20 other Los Angeles County cities and a building industry association, who sought to overturn the storm-water pollution regulations by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board because the agency did not consider their economic impact on construction projects.

Several environmental groups -- Natural Resources Defense Council, Santa Monica Baykeeper and Heal the Bay -- intervened to challenge that ruling. This week they celebrated its reversal as a victory for the health of Southern California beaches, where fouled storm water is a major source of pollution.

"This decision will protect millions of people who use local beaches and water resources throughout Southern California and assures that science remains the focus when these standards are developed,” said David Beckman, water quality program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The consortium of cities, including Arcadia, Carson, Claremont, Downey, Glendora and Whittier, joined the Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation in 2005 to file suit against the State Water Board and the L.A. regional board, saying the treatment control structures to meet its storm-water quality regulations for metals, bacteria, trash and other contaminants were prohibitively expensive to install.

In the 29-page opinion issued Tuesday, the appeals court found the state was required to adopt measures to control water pollution under the federal Clean Water Act.

Richard Montevideo, attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was disappointed by the ruling, which he said was "cursory and did not do justice to the case."

"Our position was and remains that they have to consider whether these standards can reasonably be achieved -- what the economic impacts are," he said. "A lot of these requirements are just not feasible. In some cases it doesn’t matter how much money you spend."

Montevideo said he would confer with the cities in the suit to determine whether they would ask for the case to be heard by the California Supreme Court.

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-- Tony Barboza

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