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Los Angeles, Malibu Sued Over Polluted Runoff

LOS ANGELES, California, March 7, 2008 (ENS) – Two environmental groups filed two separate lawsuits in federal court Monday to compel the County of Los Angeles and the City of Malibu to stop allowing urban stormwater runoff carrying bacteria and toxins to flow into coastal waters.

Urban runoff is known to be the top source of coastal water pollution and contact with the pathogens and chemicals, such as cyanide, aluminum and fecal coliform, sickens beachgoers and damages marine life, the groups claim.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, and the Santa Monica Baykeeper say their lawsuits are the first attempt to hold these governments accountable for the results of their court-ordered efforts to reduce urban runoff.

“Year after year, the county’s own data show that pollutants ranging from cyanide to fecal bacteria are flowing into local waters at levels the law forbids,” said David Beckman, director of the Coastal Water Quality Project at NRDC. “It’s time to stop going through the motions of fighting water pollution, and actually clean up the water.”

The requirements are contained in a Clean Water Act permit issued to Malibu County, and other cities in 2001 by the State of California’s Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The lawsuits were brought under the federal Clean Water Act. As part of its Clean Water Act permit duties, Los Angeles County is required to test the quality of runoff flowing into local waters, such as Santa Monica Bay.

The county’s own data confirm it is ignoring permit standards that impose specific limits on the amount of pollution it can discharge into Malibu Creek, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and San Gabriel Rivers, the environmental groups claim in their lawsuit.

They claim the county also has failed to report high pollution levels and implement corrective action.

“Santa Monica Bay is one of the most extraordinary coastal estuaries on the west coast of North America, and it is high time the county, the agency most responsible for its protection, acted like it was a resource worth protecting,” said Tom Ford, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper. “We need results, not more paper shuffling.”

In addition, the lawsuits seek to enforce a “no discharge” rule meant to protect a coastal preserve in the waters off northern Los Angeles County.

The Mugu to Latigo coastal preserve, one of 34 Areas of Special Biological Significance in California, stretches from Mugu Lagoon in Ventura County to Latigo Point in the city of Malibu. These unique areas are afforded special protection by California’s Ocean Plan, which prohibits any pollution discharges into or near these areas.

Yet water quality sampling conducted by the Santa Monica Baykeeper found that bacteria levels in discharges from county pipes exceeded those set in the Ocean Plan.

Los Angeles County officials said the county’s discharges are under the supervision of the California Water Quality Control Board – Los Angeles Region.

On Tuesday the Los Angeles Regional Board issued notices to Los Angeles County and 20 cities along Santa Monica Bay, including Malibu, regarding violations of bacteria limits set to protect public health.

These violation notices follow from previous Board actions on September 14, 2006 and August 9, 2007, when the Regional Board established requirements for the County of Los Angeles and the cities within the Santa Monica Bay Watershed to prevent urban runoff with unacceptable levels of bacteria from being discharged into Santa Monica Bay and Marina del Rey Harbor from April through October – the height of the recreational season.

The Board said in a statement, “While the county and the cities within Santa Monica Bay Watershed have taken actions to reduce urban runoff to beaches, monitoring data reveal that urban runoff with excessive levels of bacteria continues to flow into the ocean at many locations along Santa Monica Bay beaches and within Marina del Rey Harbor. This threatens the health of the millions of people that swim in Santa Monica Bay.”

The Regional Board has notified the county and cities of the violations of bacteria limits, and has issued orders requiring the county and cities to identify and take additional actions to abate the sources of the excessive levels of bacteria.

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