Port of LA Faces Lawsuit Over Alleged Clean Water Act Violations

A sea lion and seagull rest on a buoy in the Los Angeles Harbor with pilot boats in the background. Photo: Port of LA.

Environment California, a nonprofit political organization that lobbies for environmental legislation, has notified the Port of Los Angeles of plans to file litigation related to numerous alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

The environmental advocacy organization on May 21 announced plans to file its lawsuit within 60 days in the federal Central District Court of California.

Environment California also alleges that the port’s stormwater treatment system is drastically undersized and that as a result, untreated wastewater frequently bypasses the system entirely, in violation of federal law.

Phillip Sanfield, the port’s communications director, said that the intent to sue notice was being reviewed.

“The notice involves a pump station that discharges groundwater and stormwater in order to keep the roadway at a railway underpass dry,” Sanfield said. “The Port of Los Angeles is working to address issues at the pump station. We have invested more than $2.5 million over the past decade and plan to spend an additional $2.5 million over the next three years to further improve the treatment system.”

Environment California noted that stormwater pollution after rainfall frequently forces closure of Southern California beaches. At issue is stormwater conveyed from an about 53-acre portion of the port, 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, to an onsite treatment system.

That system is supposed to remove grit, toxic metals and bacteria that accumulate on the property in dry weather and end up in stormwater. Environment California contends that because the port’s treatment system is ineffective and undersized, the port has continued for years to discharge excessive, illegal levels of fecal bacteria and copper. 

Despite regularly paying a “mandatory minimum” state penalty of $3,000 per violation, the violations continue unabated, according to Environment California.

Under the Clean Water Act’s citizen suit provision, private citizens affected by violations of the law are permitted to bring an enforcement action against the violator in federal court.