District Court Upholds Efforts to Reduce Pollution in Malibu Creek

Judge upholds EPA’s effort to protect water quality in important Los Angeles waterway

LOS ANGELES, February 9, 2016 — Marking an important victory for one of Los Angeles County’s few remaining natural watersheds, a federal district court this week upheld a plan established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to significantly reduce pollution and protect water quality in Malibu Creek.

Los Angeles-based environmentalists, represented by attorneys at the Natural Resources Defense Council, celebrated the ruling, which rejected a lawsuit brought against the EPA by Las Virgenes Municipal Water District-Triunfo Sanitation District. The water agency had pushed back against EPA actions, which identified necessary pollution reductions to protect Malibu Creek from excessive sediments, nitrogen and phosphorus. Too much sediment can clog habitat within the creek, and nitrogen and phosphorous can cause dense algal growth, making it difficult for aquatic life to live in the creek.

The Malibu Creek watershed extends from the Santa Monica Mountains and adjacent Simi Hills to the Pacific Coast at Santa Monica Bay, with Malibu Creek draining into Malibu Lagoon, a 13-acre tidal lagoon. More than 75 percent of the watershed is undeveloped and several threatened and endangered plant and animal species call the creek and lagoon home.

“We’re thankful the court upheld this important plan to protect water quality for the people and wildlife of Los Angeles,” said Bruce Reznik, executive director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper, who joined Heal the Bay and Natural Resources Defense Council as interveners. “We’re appalled that during our worst drought on record, our public agencies would fight standards meant to protect the limited water resources our region has.”

The February 1 decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Oakland Division, addressed a September 2013 lawsuit brought against the EPA by Las Virgenes Municipal Water District-Triunfo Sanitation District. Las Virgenes is a joint powers authority that is the owner/operator of the Tapia Wastewater Reclamation Facility, which discharges into Malibu Creek. The ruling upheld the EPA’s establishment of pollution-reduction targets under the federal Clean Water Act that will help ensure that Las Virgenes will better treat its sewage discharge before releasing wastewater into Malibu Creek.

The case ties back to a 1998 Heal the Bay and Los Angeles Waterkeeper lawsuit against the EPA over California’s failure to establish pollution targets (known as Total Maximum Daily Loads or ‘TMDLs’) for waterways in the Los Angeles region that were not meeting water quality standards.

“One of the Clean Water Act’s most important provisions is the requirement to establish pollution targets to improve contaminated waterways through TMDLs,” said Heal the Bay Vice President Sarah Sikich. “We are incredibly proud that sound science, including data collected by Heal the Bay, was used to inform these new cleanup goals for nutrient pollution that has caused algal growth and excessive sediment in Malibu Creek.”

Las Virgenes has 60 days to file an appeal of the district court’s order.

“The judge was clear that the water agency’s arguments against reducing water pollution were at times ‘specious,’ ‘misleading’ and ‘disconcerting,’” said Steve Fleischli, Natural Resource Defense Council water program director and senior attorney. “It is time for this public agency to stop wasting its customers’ funds on fighting to pollute Malibu Creek.”


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Founded in 1993, Los Angeles Waterkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay, and adjacent waters through enforcement, fieldwork, and community action. It works to achieve this goal through litigation and regulatory programs that ensure water quality protections in waterways throughout L.A. County. Los Angeles Waterkeeper’s Litigation & Advocacy, Marine, and Water Quality teams conduct interconnected projects that serve this mission.


Heal the Bay is an environmental non-profit dedicated to making the coastal waters and watersheds of greater L.A. safe, healthy, and clean. We use science, education, community action and advocacy to pursue our mission. Founded in 1985, we rely on our over 15,000 members and thousands of volunteers to help achieve our mission.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us atwww.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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