Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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EPA Water Standards OK’d for Malibu Creek

LOS ANGELES (CN) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water quality standards for a Southern California creek survived a legal challenge from a water district, which claimed the measures would cost $180 million to implement.

In 2013, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District and the wastewater treatment provider Triunfo Sanitation District sought a court order that would bar the EPA from using the water quality standards, known as Total Maximum Daily Loads, in Malibu Creek.

The water quality standards identified maximum daily amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in order to prevent excessive algae and scum in the creek.

Las Virgenes' lawsuit said it would cost $180 million to update the Tapia Wastewater Reclamation Facility, called the measures "costly and ineffective" and said they would "divert scarce revenue from being applied to effective strategies for creek protection."

The plaintiffs said they had already spent millions of dollars eliminating pollution in the creek and protecting the benthic macroinvertebrates, small creatures living among rocks, logs and sediment at the bottom of the creek. By studying the populations of the animals, the EPA is able to determine the extent of water pollution.

The district's lawsuit challenged the daily loads as invalid under the Clean Water Act, claiming the EPA did not have the authority to enforce the measures in California and that the water quality standards had been adopted without following required rules and procedures.

In March 2014, environmental groups Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Heal the Bay and Natural Resources Defense Council intervened in the lawsuit. A Los Angeles federal court then transferred the case to Oakland.

In a Feb. 1 decision, U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong denied the district's motions for summary judgment on all its claims, finding that the EPA had the authority to publish the water quality standards first in 2003 and again in 2013.

And while California law does require consideration of economic impacts when establishing water quality standards, Armstrong agreed that the district had not pleaded a claim on that point and cannot do so now.

Armstrong also dismissed the district's argument that the unique geology through which Malibu Creek passes - a natural composite of marine sediments - was responsible for at least some of the elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Instead, she noted the EPA had made comparisons with other areas of the creek that do not have naturally occurring marine sediments and correctly concluded that the wastewater facility had a far greater effect on the creek than the geology did.

In a further blow to the district, Armstrong granted summary judgment to the EPA and environmentalists on their cross motions for summary judgment and ordered the case closed.

Natural Resources Defense Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Relevant officials at the water district and EPA could not be reached by telephone for comment on Wednesday.

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