Big Win for Clean Water: Court Sides With Riverkeeper, Tells Clark County to Cleanup Dirty Stormwater
In a resounding victory for communities that rely on eating healthy Columbia River fish and swimming in clean water, the Washington State Court of Appeals sided with Columbia Riverkeeper and allies at the Rosemere Neighborhood Association, and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center by requiring Clark County to comply with the Clean Water Act and deal with dirty stormwater pollution. Additional information on the ruling from The Columbian
In urban areas, rain runs across dirty pavement and parking lots, picking up toxic metals, oil, grease, bacteria and other contaminants, which all flow into our rivers and streams. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies stormwater pollution as a major cause of pollution in our nation’s waterways. The State of Washington, therefore, adopted laws the require large counties to manage stormwater. These laws have led to positive changes in green building techniques, rain gardens, and more greenspace. The Court found that Clark County violated the law by neglecting to adopt local building ordinances to protect our rivers.
Not only has Clark County violated the law, it is ignoring the very real economic and quality of life costs associated with stormwater pollution. For example, stormwater pollution:
- Increases flooding—for example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that stormwater causes or contributes to at least one quarter of economic losses due to flooding—or $1 billion per year
- Adds costs to providing safe drinking water
- Threatens public health
- Impacts fishing opportunities and water recreation
History of this case
This victory is a long time coming. In 2009, Ecology ruled that Clark County violate the law. Ecology changed course and cut a sweetheart deal that made Clark County the only large county in the state to avoid critical steps to reduce stormwater pollution. In 2010, our coalition of local citizens and conservation groups successfully challenged Clark County’s illegal action and this sweetheart deal.
In 2011, Washington’s Pollution Control Hearings Board ruled in our favor, stating that the County’s failure to control polluted runoff violated state laws to protect clean water. A federal court also found that Clark County’s actions likely violate the federal Clean Water Act.
On September 24, 2012, the Washington State Court of Appeals also ruled on the side of clean water, rejecting Clark County’s attempts to evade the Clean Water Act’s requirements to address a major threat to clean rivers—dirty stormwater pollution.
At Columbia Riverkeeper, we’re committed to enforcing laws that guarantee our right to safe, clean rivers. We salute our team of attorneys at Earthjustice and coalition of partners in Clark County (especially the hard-working Dvija Michael Bertish of the Rosemere Neighborhood Association) for bringing home a major victory for our Columbia River and its tributaries.
We’re hopeful that Clark County will now embrace the growth industry of green building, smart infrastructure development, and clean water for a healthy community.