Who owns the pollution that’s generated someplace else but that ends up in your watershed? We might soon have—legally speaking, at least—an answer.
Last week the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that originated in California but will have implications for many water-quality programs nationwide. Los Angeles County is appealing a decision that holds it responsible for polluted runoff that discharges to the Pacific Ocean via two of its waterways, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers. The county says most of the pollutants are from upstream sources—not generated within its jurisdiction and therefore not under its control.
Back in 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Santa Monica Baykeeper sued the county to get it to treat the runoff or otherwise prevent it from flowing to the ocean. Last year the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the county was responsible. Polluted runoff is responsible for beach closures in California and elsewhere.
The NRDC recently reported that 2011 beach closures nationwide, although down slightly from the previous year, are at their third-highest level in more than two decades. California had an increase in beach closures.