Environmental lawsuit filed against city and county

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Nearly nine months after they announced their intention to sue the county and city over water pollution, two environmental organizations today made good on their word. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Santa Monica Baykeeper filed suits against the local governments in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The lawsuits allege the county and city have continuously violated rules added to the federal Clean Water Act in 1991 setting limits on the amount of pollutants that can enter the watershed through wastewater and storm water.

“What we’re seeking after nearly 20 years of restrictions is results measured as clean water, plain and simple,” said NRDC senior attorney David Beckman.

The NRDC and the Baykeeper had filed a notice to the city and county in June that they intended to sue. This began a 60-day process toward the filing of a federal suit. During that period, the governments had the opportunity to meet with the environmental groups to come up with a solution and avoid going to court.

“We have bent over backwards to delay the initiation of litigation,” Beckman said. “We only had to wait 60 days, but we waited four and a half times longer than that, considerably longer than anybody else would wait.”

Mayor Jeff Jennings said although he had not been part of the negotiations, he had received updates from City Attorney Christi Hogin, and she had indicated they were going well.

“I got updated as recently as today, and there wasn’t any mention of anything that would correspond with that [negotiations were not going well],” Jennings said.

The city in 2005 built a storm water treatment plant in the Civic Center area to curb water runoff. Its Legacy Park project is supposed to strengthen the process. And the city has a long-term goal to deal with wastewater as well with the construction of a wastewater treatment facility.

“I’m sure their view is that’s not enough, and they want us to do something more,” Jennings said. “I’m just not exactly sure what that is.”

Baykeeper Executive Director Tom Ford said it is not the groups’ job to figure out how to solve the pollution problem. But he said there are “known pathways and technologies to land management that would eliminate these problems.” He said some of the solutions include inserting more storm drains, cleaning the streets and tracking down the origin of the pollution and dealing with it.

“They’ve known that these violations have been happening, and they’ve done nothing to address it,” Ford said. “When we look year after year, we see the same thing happening. There’s been no action that’s been taken that’s made a difference.”