L.A. County Pays $4 Million for Water Pollution

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LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal judge approved a $4 million settlement with Los Angeles County to clean up the billions of gallons of polluted stormwater discharged every year into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers.

The Natural Resources Defense Council announced the settlement on Nov. 29 capping a lawsuit which included a review by the U.S. Supreme Court four years ago. The NRDC and Los Angeles Waterkeeper sued the county in 2008, alleging 500 violations of the Clean Water Act.

Untreated stormwater discharged each year in the county includes aluminum, copper, cyanide, zinc and fecal bacteria. The pollution can end up on county beaches and make people sick.

The settlement includes $2.8 million for a Green Streets project in the Watts neighborhood in South Los Angeles. The project on 103rd Street will incorporate landscaping to redirect stormwater, solar-powered trash cans and drought-tolerant landscaping, among other features, to reduce pollution in the L.A. River.

Another $1.2 million will be used countywide to capture polluted stormwater that would otherwise run off untreated into the ocean.

It is the first case in which a municipality has been found liable for water quality violations involving stormwater discharges, the NRDC’s Kimiko Martinez wrote in an email.

“For years, the urban slobber that’s picked up by rainwater as it flows into drains and waterways has been a real issue for Southern California – a source of pollution that’s also an underutilized supply of reusable water if it’s captured before it picks up all these pollutants,” said NRDC attorney Steve Fleischli.

“We’re excited that this settlement helps build infrastructure for stormwater capture and also improves environmental conditions, public health and economic opportunities in the Watts community.”

Los Angeles Waterkeeper noted that 103rd Street had been called “Charcoal Alley” because of fire damage to the area after the Watts riots in 1965.

U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell approved the settlement on Nov. 23.

The county did not immediately respond to a request for comment.