Storm Water Everywhere, Not A Lot of Enforcement

Ballona Creek

This summer I moved to Los Angeles from Portland, Oregon, and became the new law fellow with Los Angeles Waterkeeper. It has not taken me long to grasp the size of the county’s water quality problems. This much is clear: Industrial facilities from all parts of L.A. county are operating in violation of federal and state clean water laws, and regulators are often overwhelmed or disinterested.

Whether it’s waste transfer stations with Clean Water Act permits exceeding Environmental Protection Agency benchmarks or scrapyards operating in blatant disregard of the requirement to get a permit- the effect on water quality is disastrous.

One major problem with unpermitted facilities is that we have no idea what pollutants are ending up our water. This problem is exacerbated by the underground market for metals. The L.A. Times recently reported on illegal scrap trading and noted, for example, the theft of a 200 pound brass bell from a Catholic Church last summer. These types of stolen metals are then sold to rogue facilities, whose operations pollute nearby waterways and completely evade federal law, which bans discharges without a permit.

However, just getting a permit doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. Many facilities are registered under California’s General Industrial Storm Water Permit, and the documents detailing some of the pollutants they discharge are available to the public. These reporting documents often make clear that many facilities in L.A. routinely violate their permits. The good news is, citizens have a right to bring actions against these polluters to enforce compliance, as do government agencies. So why isn’t everyone in L.A. exercising this right?

In part, because it’s complicated. Often these reporting documents are incomplete, missing, fail to include samples of the right pollutants, or fail to include samples at all. It can take a lot of digging to piece together what is otherwise a clear violation of law. At LA Waterkeeper, we work to fill the gaps of both water quality sampling and enforcement through our industrial storm water campaign, in order to protect LA’s waterways. To read more about our work, click here.

– Maggie Hall, Law Fellow

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