Contaminated runoff threatens water quality
SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency can set limits on pollution of rivers from logging and agricultural runoff.
The ruling upholds a federal judge’s interpretation of certain provisions of the 1972 Clean Water Act that the EPA began enforcing in 1991 because of pressure from environmental groups.
Those provisions allow the EPA to force states to come up with ways to reduce pollution in rivers and waterways contaminated solely by runoff, as opposed to industrial waste or sewage. Before 1991, the EPA set pollutant limits only on discharges from “point sources,” like drain pipes from sewage systems and industrial plants.
The EPA says runoff or “non-point source” pollution has become the leading threat to water quality in the United States.
States decide how to achieve the limits, through restrictions on logging, road-building and other practices that cause erosion and chemical runoff. States can lose federal funds if they fail to require reductions.
Farming groups in the case decided Friday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals argued that the government was only authorized to limit pollution from industrial waste and sewage systems.
The suit was filed by two Mendocino County landowners who were joined by the American Farm Bureau Federation and state and local farm organizations.
The landowners, Guido and Betty Pronsolino, managed forest property along the Garcia River in southern Mendocino County, one of 17 rivers on California’s North Coast classified as “substandard” by the EPA in 1992. The agency said the river’s coho salmon and steelhead populations have been severely damaged by sediment from many years of logging.
When the Pronsolinos sought a logging permit, they were required to reduce erosion, including leaving certain large trees uncut.
The couple said the measures, which would cost them $750,000, were not required under EPA guidelines. The appeals court disagreed.