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1997 News Releases



Release Date: 10/31/1997
Contact Information: Dave Schmidt, U.S. EPA, (415) 744-1578

     (San Francisco) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California today filed an agreement in federal district court to settle a lawsuit with the Defend The Bay, an environmental group, concerning pollution problems in the Newport Bay watershed, which includes Irvine and the watershed of San Diego Creek in Orange County.  In the settlement, U.S. EPA has made a legal commitment guaranteeing that pollution reduction targets, known as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), will be established for three categories of pollutants by specified deadlines over the next four and a half years.

     "We share Defend The Bay's goal of taking action to protect the Newport Bay watershed's fish, wildlife, and people from water pollution," said Felicia Marcus, Regional Administrator of U.S. EPA.  "We're pleased to be able to agree on a rapid but reasonable timeframe to work with the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board and other interested parties to get it done."

     A Total Maximum Daily Load, as the name implies, is the amount of a pollutant a waterway can absorb, plus a margin of safety, and still meet water quality standards, including designated uses such as drinking water, aquatic life, and recreation.   A TMDL includes a quantitative assessment of water quality problems, pollution sources, and pollution reductions needed to restore and protect a river, stream, or lake.

     The TMDL process, under the federal Clean Water Act, provides a framework for assessing the environmental problems in a watershed and identifying pollution reductions needed to protect drinking water, aquatic life, recreation, and other uses of rivers, lakes, and streams.  The Clean Water Act gives state governments primary responsibility for establishing TMDLs, though U.S. EPA can also develop them.  The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state agency which was not a party to the lawsuit,  has already made commitments to establish TMDLs generally consistent with the schedule laid out in the consent decree.  The agreement, however, commits U.S. EPA to establish TMDLs within 90 days if the Regional Board misses a deadline.
     "This settlement puts U.S. EPA and state agencies on a cooperative track to identify pollution problems in the Newport Bay watershed and find solutions," said U.S. Attorney Michael Yamaguchi.  "It's an important step towards cleaner streams and beaches in Orange County."

     The consent agreement sets the following schedule for adoption of TMDLs: for sediment and nutrients, by January 15, 1998; for pathogens, by January 15, 2000; and for pesticides and priority organic pollutants, January 15, 2002.  U.S. EPA is currently providing technical and financial assistance to support the State's development of these TMDLs.  If U.S. EPA needs to establish any of these TMDLs, the agency intends to work as much as possible with state agencies, local governments, landowners, and other stakeholders in the Newport Bay Watershed to do so.    
     Nationally, there have been over 20 lawsuits related to the Clean Water Act TMDL program.  This settlement is the second, and final, TMDL lawsuit settled in California.  The first involved rivers draining into the ocean north of the Russian River.  More information can be accessed on U.S. EPA's Internet homepage at

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