California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, based in San Diego, has upheld the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s landmark trash reduction program designed to keep debris out of the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek.
However, the appellate court required environmental analysis revisions to the program in its ruling Thursday, January 26th, in City of Arcadia et al., v. State Water Resources Control Board et al.
A coalition of 22 cities — called the Coalition for Practical Regulation — challenged the trash reduction program on grounds that the cost of compliance to cities would be more than $945 million and that a zero trash limit was unreasonable.
“Trash is an enormous problem in our waters,” said David Nahai, chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“It kills and maims fish and wildlife, and it is unsightly. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ efforts to tie the water boards’ hands and to derail efforts to eliminate trash in our region’s waters.”
Each year, thousands of tons of trash wash through storm drains and into the Los Angeles River, Ballona Creek, and the Pacific Ocean.
The Los Angeles River is a concrete-lined flood control channel that runs 51 miles through the City of Los Angeles and surrounding municipalities in Los Angeles County.
The river ends at the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, other bodies of water such as Ballona Creek branch off from the river.
Coastal waters off Los Angeles County are among the nation’s most intensively used by swimmers, boaters, surfers, and anglers.
To address problems associated with water pollution and popular recreation, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a 14-year program to eliminate trash in the Los Angeles River.
The program requires cities, Los Angeles County, and other government agencies to reduce trash through enhanced street sweeping, litter law enforcement, nets at the end of storm drains, and trash capture devices.
The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted the trash reduction program in 2001.
As a result of a lawsuit brought by Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay and other environmental groups, a federal court had ordered the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to develop a trash reduction program.
The plan was required by a provision of the Federal Clean Water Act that is designed to address the nation’s most polluted bodies of water.
When a state identifies a body of water as impaired by pollution, the state must develop a trash total maximum daily load (Trash TMDL).
A Trash TMDL means the State Water Resources Control Board or regional water board must identify how much pollution can be present without adversely affecting the uses of the body of water.
California had more than 679 bodies of water impaired with pollution requiring total maximum daily load determinations.
In 2001, the regional water board ordered Los Angeles County cities to ensure a zero Trash TMDL — a zero level of trash — in Los Angeles River channels and storm drains within 12 years.
Los Angeles County cities sued the State Water Resources Control Board and the regional water board because city officials and engineers said a zero Trash TMDL for the Los Angeles River was a “failure to consider the evidence of the impacts of construction and maintenance of pollution control devices.”
“Compliance would cost area cities over $945 million for installing trash catching devices,” said Ken Farfsing, a spokesman for the Coalition for Practical Regulation.
“Construction costs have escalated by more than 50 percent since 2001. The ‘zero’ order was unreasonable and the board had not studied the environmental and economic impacts on government services.”
The appellate court tossed out nine of ten coalition challenges and said a zero Trash TMDL is attainable.
“A zero limit on trash within the meaning of the Trash TMDL is attainable because there are methods of deemed compliance with the limit,” the court’s three-judge panel ruled. “The record does not show the limit is unattainable.”
The court ordered the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to revise the environmental document accompanying the trash reduction program.
The process will require the regional water board to analyze potential issues with air and soil based on how cities and Los Angeles County anticipate complying with the trash reduction program.
“It is a technical fix that the board can readily address,” said Jon Bishop, the Los Angeles Re-
gional Water Quality Control Board executive officer.
“The important aspect of the court’s decision is that it upheld our core authority to require these important and necessary trash reductions.”
Judges wrote that the regional water board “did not study the need for additional street sweeping or related impacts on air quality, traffic, and city long-term maintenance costs.”
Farfsing said the Trash TMDL is one of 92 anti-pollution efforts required of Los Angeles County cities in the next several years.
“The court decision is a significant victory for cities and taxpayers,” said Larry Forester, Signal Hill vice mayor.
“All cities want to implement cost-effective programs designed to reduce trash in local rivers and beaches, but we can’t afford the blank checks required by impractical regulations.”