A state appellate panel ruled Thursday that municipal sewage
treatment plants in Burbank and Los Angeles must comply with federal
and state water quality standards, upholding an earlier appellate
Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott said the ruling could have
far-reaching economic consequences for Burbank.
“This has huge impacts on the city financially,” Scott said
Friday. “The people who pay for sewer service, it will definitely
affect their rates.”
It was unclear Friday how much it would cost the city to comply
with the standards, and how much of that cost would be passed on to
rate-payers. Public Works Director Bruce Feng could not be reached
While Scott called the ruling disappointing, she said it wasn’t
“We’re going to study [the ruling] and try to figure out where we
go from here,” she said. “These are extremely stringent standards
that the regional board imposed.”
The cities of Burbank and Los Angeles had petitioned the
California Regional Water Quality Control Board for exemptions to
standards under the federal Clean Water Act and the state’s
Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, claiming it would be too
expensive, as well as unnecessary, to meet those standards.
When permits were issued in 1998 without exemptions, the cities
sued, claiming that the treated sewage discharged from their
municipal plants did not meet the toxic pollutants limits imposed by
the Regional Water Board.
“One of our challenges was that [the board] didn’t consider the
economic impacts,” Scott said.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed and ordered the water
panel to revise its permits. But the water board appealed, arguing it
could not fulfill its obligations under federal and state clean water
regulations if the cities were allowed exemptions.
In December, a state appellate panel reversed the lower court
ruling, explaining that the federal Clean Water Act mandates that
water quality permits contain conditions designed to achieve water
quality standards, i.e. to protect humans, fish and organisms.
On Thursday, another three-justice panel ruled unanimously to
uphold that ruling.
“The court’s decision makes it clear that the cities of Los
Angeles and Burbank are legally obligated to treat their sewage to
remove toxic pollutants,” said Susan Cloke, chairwoman of the
Regional Water Quality Control Board.