Results tagged “LA County Flood Control District” from GTH Energy & Natural Resources Law Blog

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Ninth Circuit Determination That Moving Water Through A Conduit Is a "Discharge": Dam Operators Remain Safe From Clean Water Act Liability

January 9, 2013

In a short and unanimous ruling issued yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court in Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council (No. 11-460) rejected the Ninth Circuit's holding that a "discharge" of pollutants occurs when water is moved through a concrete flood control channel into a navigable river. As noted in our November 2 post, this is one of two cases of particular concern to dam operators on the Supreme Court's current docket. The Supreme Court's opinion reaffirms the long-standing doctrine that dams and other water control structures do not "discharge" pollution, the primary test of liability under the Clean Water Act ("CWA"), where those structures merely pass polluted water through the dam works without adding new pollutants. Operators of such facilities can now breath a sigh of relief because the Ninth Circuit's inroad into this doctrine has been eliminated.

The case arises from a citizen suit filed by environmental groups claiming that the L.A. County Flood Control District violated its Clean Water Act ("CWA") permit by allowing excessive levels of pollution in its municipal storm water control system. The District Court rejected the suit, concluding that the Flood Control District had not "discharged" a "pollutant" into the water so as to violate the CWA, but had only transported already-polluted water in the flood control channels, relying on the Supreme Court's holding in South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe. In that case, the Supreme Court held unanimously that no addition of a pollutant occurs that could trigger liability under the CWA when a conveyance merely transfers water from one part of a water body to another without adding any pollutants.

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Floodgates Open to Takings Claims? Supreme Court Finds That Even Temporary Flooding From Government-Owned Dams May Constitute a "Taking"

December 10, 2012

As reported in our posting of November 2, the U.S. Supreme Court this term is considering two cases of particular significance for dam operators. The first, Arkansas Fish & Game Commission v. United States, was decided last week. The court rejected the proposition that no Fifth Amendment taking can occur from temporary flooding caused by a government-owned dam. This result will give little comfort to dam operators since takings claims will now be decided on a fact-intensive balancing test rather than on the basis of a per se rule that takings can arise only from permanent or predictable periodic flooding.

The case arose from seasonal flooding at the Donaldson Black River Wildlife Management Area ("WMA") in northwest Arkansas caused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Clearwater Dam, located 115 miles upstream in Missouri. In the 1990s, the Corps began to deviate from its accepted operating plan for the Clearwater reservoir in order to reduce damage to crops upstream from the dam. Arkansas sued the Corps, asserting that deviations from operating rules increased flooding in the WMA, damaging hardwoods and reducing the value of the habitat in the WMA. The claim succeeded in the lower court, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in a split en banc decision, reversed, holding that the flooding was only temporary and therefore could not support a takings claim. This holding was primarily based on Supreme Court takings precedents from 1924 and 1917 involving dams.

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Dams in the Supreme Court: Two Cases To Watch This Term

November 2, 2012

Two cases of great importance to operators of dams, storm sewers, and other water works will be decided in the U.S. Supreme Court's current term. The first, Arkansas Fish & Game Commission v. United States (No. 11-597), involves a takings claim for flooding caused by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ("Corps") dam. The second, Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council (No. 11-460), addresses whether a the operator of a municipal storm sewer system violated its permit under the Clean Water Act ("CWA") where its flood control structures channeled an already-polluted river, passing the polluted water through a man-made structure, but without adding new pollution.

In Arkansas Fish & Game, the state successfully asserted a claim that periodic flooding from a Corps dam, which caused significant damage at a wildlife refuge downstream from the dam, constituted a compensable "taking" under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The property at issue, the Donaldson Black River Wildlife Management Area ("WMA") in northwest Arkansas, contains rare and important bottomland hardwood habitat. It is located approximately 115 miles downstream from the Corps' Clearwater Dam in Missouri, which was constructed in the 1940s as part of efforts to control flooding in the Mississippi Basin. In the 1990s, the Corps began to deviate from its accepted operating plan for the Clearwater reservoir in order to reduce damage to crops upstream from the dam. Arkansas claimed that the deviations from operating rules increased flooding in the WMA, damaging hardwoods and reducing the value of the habitat in the WMA.

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