Claims Over Stormwater Runoff Are Still Alive
(CN) - A federal judge must determine how new permit rules have affected an environmental group's claims about runoff from logging roads, the 9th Circuit said Thursday.
The three-page decision comes after a Supreme Court reversal in the case this past March.
Northwest Environmental Defense Center had claimed in a 2006 federal complaint that logging and paper companies were discharging polluted water without a permit into the South Fork Trask River and the Little South Fork Kilchis River.
It said Georgia-Pacific West and other companies are responsible because they use logging roads to harvest timber from Oregon's Tillamook State Forest, lying in the Pacific Coast range about 40 miles west of Portland.
With some areas of Oregon averaging more than 100 inches of rain per year, the environmentalists said that water runs off the logging companies' graded roads into a system of ditches, culverts and channels that empty into nearby rivers and streams.
Evidence shows that the runoff can harm fish and other aquatic organisms, but a federal judge dismissed the action after finding that the ditches, culverts and channels were not point sources of pollution under the Clean Water Act and another regulation known as the Silvicultural Rule.
The Environmental Protection Agency amended its Industrial Stormwater Rule as the case proceeded to the Supreme Court, but the justices considered only the pre-amended version and found that the agency deserves deference.
On Thursday the 9th Circuit noted that this decision had left intact the "holding that 'when stormwater runoff is collected in a system of ditches, culverts, and channels and is then discharged into a stream or river, there is a "discernable, confined and discrete conveyance" of pollutants, and there is therefore a discharge from a point source' within the meaning of the Clean Water Act's basic definition of a point source."
The court then vacated the District Court's decision and remanded for further proceedings.