District Court Rejects EPA’S Attempt to Avoid Federal Oversight of California Water Quality

In a victory for environmental groups seeking to protect healthy rivers and endangered species, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California today denied the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that it has failed to carry out its duty to enforce the Clean Water Act.

In Natural Resources Defense Council v. McCarthy, three environmental groups filed suit alleging that, since 2014, California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has waived water quality standards in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary 14 separate times, causing severe damage to a fragile ecosystem providing habitat for dozens of endangered plants and animals, including several salmon species.  Their complaint, filed against the EPA, alleges that the EPA failed to carry out its mandatory duty under the Clean Water Act to review any revision to state water quality standards to ensure that the revised standards meet the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act.  EPA filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that the SWRCB’s waivers are not subject to federal oversight and do not qualify as revisions because they were temporary in duration.

The District Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor.  The Court explained that EPA has a clear statutory responsibility to review any revision to water quality standards and that EPA had failed to demonstrate that the waivers – although temporary in duration – do not effectively revise California’s water quality standards.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represents Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in the litigation.