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Release Date: 04/05/2000
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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 5, 2000 DOJ: (202) 514-2008
TDD (202) 514-1888

Ruling Uphold EPA’s Authority to Identify Waters Polluted By Runoff
WASHINGTON -- For the first time, a federal judge has upheld the EPA's longstanding interpretation and practice that the EPA and states have the authority to identify which U.S. waterways are polluted by runoff from urban areas, agriculture and timber harvesting -- "nonpoint sources" of pollution – and to identify the maximum amount of pollutants that may enter these waterways.

“This important decision allows us to build on our successes of completing the
task of cleaning our nation's waters,” said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. “The Clinton-Gore Administration has made delivering clean, safe water to all Americans a priority in our efforts to ensure greater protection for the environment in communities across the country.”

The March 30 opinion by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco affirms the comprehensive scope of the Clean Water Act's Total maximum Daily Load program. In the first decision to squarely address the issue, Judge Alsup found that Congress intended to include nonpoint source pollution in the Clean Water Act’s water quality standards program, and he noted that nonpoint source pollution is the dominant water quality problem in the United States today.

“The court has affirmed a strong tool for restoring America’s rivers and cleaning up pollution, regardless of its source,” said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment Division of the Justice Department.

The court heard a challenge to an EPA decision to put the Garcia River on a list of impaired waterways in California and define the amount of sediment that should be allowed to enter the river from land along its banks. Although salmon and steelhead once flourished in the Garcia River, excessive sediment from forestry operations now prevents the river from supporting healthy fish. In March 1998, the EPA developed a "total maximum daily load" (TMDL) for sediment for the river. A TMDL defines the greatest amount of a particular pollutant that can be introduced into a waterway without exceeding the river's water quality standard. The agency also defined the reductions in sediment that are necessary for the river to attain the water quality standard set by the State of California.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and other agriculture and timber groups filed suit, claiming that the EPA and the states should calculate TMDLs only for pollutants that are discharged from pipes, or point sources. The court rejected this argument, holding that the Clean Water Act is designed to provide a comprehensive solution to the nation's water quality problems, "without regard to the sources of pollution."

In California, only 1% of impaired waterways fail to meet water quality standards solely because of pollution that comes from pipes, municipal waste treatment works, or other point sources. According to EPA, 54% of California's impaired waterways are polluted by nonpoint sources exclusively, while another 45% are impaired by a combination of point and nonpoint sources.

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