David G. Savage discusses the details of the case, which "arises from a long-running dispute between Southern California environmental groups and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District over the billions of gallons of polluted water that flow into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers after heavy rainfalls."
"Storm water runoff 'is the No. 1 source of pollution in the rivers and along the coastline,' and it sickens thousands of beach visitors every year, said Liz Crosson, executive director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper [a plaintiff, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council]. Advocates hoped the lawsuit would force the county and all of its municipalities to adopt stricter measures to prevent pesticides, trash, used motor oil and other chemicals from flowing into storm drains."
The case illustrates the difficulty of regulating storm water and of assigning blame for the sources of pollution, says Savage. "County officials agree storm water is polluting the rivers but disagree on who is responsible."
"Yes, there are pollutants in the water, but dozens of municipalities are upstream from there. It's a collective runoff. It doesn't point to a particular source," Gary Hildebrand, assistant deputy director of the L.A. County Flood Control District, said in an interview.
"Experts on both sides agree they have seen progress over the past two decades in limiting pollution from storm runoff, but more needs to be done. 'This is a very complex problem,' Hildebrand said. 'There is a lot more to do, and we need to do it municipality by municipality, across the watershed.'"