Local Group Files Suit Over Malibu Creek EPA Standards

“An Ecosystem on the Brink,” a study by Heal the Bay, assesses the current condition of the 109-square-mile watershed and ways to reverse deterioration throughout the region, which winds its way through the southern edge of Ventura County, northwest Los Angeles County and eventually drains into Surfrider Beach in Malibu. Malibu Creek is pictured above.

A local association has filed a lawsuit seeking relief from the recently released pollution standards for Malibu Creek. The Las Virgenes-Triunfo Joint Powers Authority (JPA) filed a federal court action to obtain “Declaratory and Injunctive Relief” from the Malibu Creek and Lagoon Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) regulations released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on July 2, the JPA announced this week.

The JPA has taken action in federal court because it says the application of the TMDL standards would impose too great a cost on the communities it affects without any guarantee of significant improvements to the water quality of the Malibu Creek watershed, according to a release from the JPA.

“We are filing this action on behalf of the ratepayers who will ultimately bear the costs for facilities that would need to be built, yet may not accomplish meaningful water quality improvements,” David W. Pedersen, administering agent and general manager for the JPA, said in a statement. “As written, the TMDL does not sufficiently recognize native conditions in the watershed and goes far beyond the scope and intent of the Clean Water Act.” 

The JPA also stated that it has tried to avoid litigation, but it could not reach an agreement with the EPA regarding the scientific processes used to establish the Malibu Creek and Lagoon TMDL regulations.

“When one considers the staggering costs to the community, it is imperative for sound science and proper process to be at the core of such a significant regulation,” said Michael McReynolds, chair of the JPA and Triunfo Sanitation District Boards of Directors.

The JPA, a combination of Las Virgenes Municipal Water District and Triunfo Sanitation District, provides services to about 100,000 people in Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Westlake Village and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

The EPA’s water quality standards for the Malibu Creek Watershed set benchmarks on natural pollutants that currently produce excess algae growth. The pollutants, which include excess sediments and the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen, promote excess algae growth and upset the balance of Malibu Creek and Lagoon, according to the EPA.

The Malibu watershed was listed as impaired by the State of California.

“Because it goes on the list, it means that a Total Maximum Daily Load is required in order to address those impairments,” Janet Hashimoto, manager of the EPA’s Standards and TMDL Office, told The Malibu Times in July.

A TMDL is a target number of pollutants that a water body can withstand, Hashimoto said.

“Trying to find the right balance for this system, what would be OK, is what we’re trying to achieve here,” Hashimoto said.

While the EPA’s regulations have been released, it is still unclear exactly how the new water quality standards will be implemented. The standards could compel municipalities to spend money on expensive public works projects to further clean their waterways, The Malibu Times reported earlier this summer.