In relation to the surroundings, Sunnyvale and Mountain View have a reasonably inexperienced picture, spending tens of millions on bike lanes, photo voltaic vitality and electrical automobile charging stations.
However their techniques in an ongoing courtroom case — through which their legal professionals claimed main Bay Space creeks shouldn’t be shielded from air pollution underneath the federal Clear Water Act — are elevating eyebrows amongst environmentalists.
“It’s disappointing,” stated Eric Buescher, an lawyer for San Francisco Baykeeper, a nonprofit group that works to cut back air pollution in San Francisco Bay. “We expect the cities ought to be higher stewards of the streams and creeks they’re charged with defending.”
The Clear Water Act is considered one of America’s landmark environmental legal guidelines. Handed by Congress in 1972, it prohibits the discharge of pollution like chemical compounds, sewage, rubbish and poisonous waste into creeks, rivers, lakes and bays with no federal allow.
In 2020, Baykeeper sued Sunnyvale and Mountain View, saying they’ve been violating the Clear Water Act for years by discharging uncooked sewage and polluted stormwater into creeks, sending micro organism air pollution to ranges greater than 50 instances authorized limits.
The group examined water samples and located harmful ranges of E. coli, fecal coliform and different pollution in Stevens Creek, Calabazas Creek, Sunnyvale East Channel and Guadalupe Slough, all of which empty into San Francisco Bay the place folks swim and boat.
Like different cities within the Bay Space, each Sunnyvale and Mountain View deal with their sewage at wastewater vegetation earlier than releasing it into the bay. However the fits claimed that miles of getting old underground clay sewer pipes all through the 2 cities are cracked and leaking untreated sewage into storm drain techniques, which empty into the creeks.
In September 2022, U.S. District Court docket Decide Edward Davila in San Jose agreed. He dominated that the cities had violated the Clear Water Act. They confronted tens of millions in potential fines and penalties.
However the next summer season, the U.S. Supreme Court docket issued a significant ruling of its personal. In a 5-4 resolution written by Justice Samuel Alito, the courtroom restricted the federal authorities’s means to manage air pollution underneath the Clear Water Act.
The courtroom dominated in favor of an Idaho couple, Chantell and Michael Sackett, who sued the U.S. Environmental Safety Company when the company instructed them they wanted to acquire a allow to fill a wetland on their 1-acre property to construct a home.
The Supreme Court docket dominated that wetlands solely qualify for defense underneath the Clear Water Act if they’ve a “steady floor connection” to bigger our bodies of water like streams, lakes or bays. Environmental teams and California officers blasted the choice, which builders had searched for years, saying it may imply tens of millions of acres of wetlands nationwide may lose safety.
Seeing a possibility, Mountain View and Sunnyvale requested Decide Davila for a second likelihood.
In a quick final July, Melissa Thorme, a Sacramento lawyer employed by the cities, together with Sunnyvale Metropolis Legal professional John Nagel and Jennifer Logue, Mountain View’s assistant metropolis lawyer, argued that the Supreme Court docket ruling “basically modifications the panorama of this case.”
They argued that as a result of Stevens Creek, Calabazas Creek and the Sunnyvale East Channel run dry for some elements of the yr, the creeks don’t have a steady reference to San Francisco Bay and mustn’t fall underneath the Clear Water Act.
They went additional, embracing an argument that Justice Clarence Thomas had pushed, however which was not endorsed by the conservative majority, that solely our bodies of water that boats can navigate ought to be sure by the regulation’s air pollution protections.
In December, Davila rejected their arguments. He famous that the creeks are tributaries of San Francisco Bay, which is protected underneath the Clear Water Act, and as such, the creeks are coated too, even underneath the Supreme Court docket’s latest narrowing of the regulation. He scheduled an August trial to find out different points within the case and potential fines.
Environmental teams known as the cities’ techniques an unseemly try to keep away from having to pay to improve their sewer pipes and storm drain techniques.
“Stevens Creek is a significant waterway for wildlife, fish and public recreation,” stated Katja Irvin, conservation chair for the Sierra Membership’s Guadalupe Group. “It’s vital and we must always do all the things we are able to to guard it. If we stated the Clear Water Act didn’t apply to streams like this, that might make it actually, actually arduous to wash up almost any streams within the Bay Space. It’s a must to maintain polluters accountable.”
The cities say the courtroom arguments don’t imply they need to weaken environmental safeguards. In a written assertion, Jennifer Garnett, a Sunnyvale spokeswoman, and Brian Babcock, a Mountain View spokesman, stated:
“The briefs that the cities of Sunnyvale and Mountain View filed final summer season weren’t meant to recommend that the water high quality and useful makes use of of our native creeks and channels are to not be protected. We don’t take and have by no means taken that place. Somewhat, the intent was to make sure that the right legal guidelines are utilized to those waterways based mostly on a brand new U.S. Supreme Court docket resolution at the moment.”
In 2022, officers with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water High quality Management Board issued a brand new stormwater allow for greater than 80 Bay Space cities and native authorities companies. The board put in more durable guidelines for Mountain View and Sunnyvale than different cities, saying they have to conduct common water testing on their creeks, submit annual reviews and meet water high quality requirements by 2027.
“We proceed to take water high quality safety very significantly and are working diligently to determine sources of micro organism and management them the place attainable,” Garnett and Babcock stated.
Buescher of Baykeeper stated they should do extra.
“A whole lot of that is deferred upkeep,” he stated. “The cities have determined they need to kick it down the highway.”