Landmark Pollution Lawsuit

The lawsuit’s $3 million penalty marked one of the largest citizen-enforcement penalties in Washington state history.


Landmark Pollution Lawsuit against Clark County Leads to Win for Clean Water

Seven years after losing Clean Water Act lawsuit, Clark County shows progress

Vancouver, WA (October 6, 2021)—Clark County marked a major milestone this week, wrapping up seven years of commitments to improve salmon habitat and reduce dirty stormwater pollution under a lawsuit brought by Columbia Riverkeeper, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and the Rosemere Neighborhood Association. The lawsuit’s $3 million penalty marked one of the largest citizen-enforcement penalties in Washington state history. The Clean Water Act empowers public interest groups to sue polluters—and the government—when they violate the law.  

“Not only did Clark County violate the law, it ignored the very real economic and quality of life costs associated with stormwater pollution, from impacts on flooding to drinking water to recreation,” said Lauren Goldberg, legal and program director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “This week marks the culmination of important efforts by Clark County to comply with the Clean Water Act and protect our shared water resources.”

In 2009 Clark County brokered a deal with state environmental regulators. The county asked the Wash. Dept. of Ecology to approve weaker limits for reducing stormwater pollution from big box stores, subdivisions, and other sprawl that threatens fragile streams and rivers that once supported the most abundant salmon runs on Earth. The state regulators agreed. 

After the county lost several rounds of litigation brought by the environmental groups and the neighborhood association, the county agreed to take steps to correct the problem. This included complying with the Clean Water Act and establishing a $3 million fund at the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board to support community-based work to improve salmon habitat and water quality. 

“The millions of dollars funding restoration work completed in the lower Columbia shows the importance of the law and citizen enforcement,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney with Earthjustice. “The Clean Water Act empowers people to protect their communities from pollution.”

In urban areas, rain runs across dirty pavement and parking lots, picking up toxic metals, oil, grease, bacteria and other contaminants, which all flow into our rivers and streams. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies stormwater pollution as a major cause of pollution in our nation’s waterways. Washington state adopted laws that require large counties to manage stormwater. These laws have led to positive changes in green building techniques, rain gardens, and more green space.

Attorneys Jan Hasselman and Janette Brimmer at Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm, represented Columbia Riverkeeper, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and the Rosemere Neighborhood Association for almost ten years to force the county comply with federal and state clean water laws. The groups negotiated a precedent-setting $3 million restoration settlement after winning multiple rounds of litigation. 

Projects funded by the settlement include: 
  • The Clark Conservation District’s Poop Smart Clark –Lacamas Creek. Poop Smart Clark is a pollution identification and correction (PIC) program to reduce bacteria in our rivers and streams. Through pollution source identification, targeted outreach, and recruitment of landowners to implement best management practices (BMPs), Poop Smart Clark connects residents to information, technical assistance, and financial resources to correct pollution, drive social change, and increase adoption of BMPs.
  • The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership’s Campen Creek Stormwater SOS Project. The Estuary Partnership will provide 350 students from Camas, Washougal and Vancouver area schools with a comprehensive stormwater education and outreach project that teaches students about the connection between land use, impervious surfaces, stormwater, water quality, and species health. The project will engage 104 community members in planting 4,500 trees on 3-acres along Campen Creek.
  • Clark County and Stormwater Partners of SW WA’s Watershed Sign Revitalization and Outreach. Clark County, with the Stormwater Partners of SW Washington, will repair and replace aging and missing roadside watershed signs, and add new signs where roads cross named-streams in WRIA 28. Signs will be revitalized in coordination with the creation of an interactive watershed map and a watershed health outreach campaign to educate the community about beneficial actions for watershed health.
  • Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group’s Little Washougal Riparian Restoration and Outreach. The LCFEG combines riparian restoration activities and landowner education to ease rural stormwater impacts and support landowners for improving sensitive riparian areas.
  • Watershed Alliance’s Don’t Drip and Drive. Don’t Drip and Drive is a regional program throughout Clark County that focuses on educating vehicle owners about the importance of fixing vehicle leaks, as well as the environmental and safety impacts from motor oil and fluid leaks.

Many of the projects the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board funded are ongoing; the Board will be managing contracts through completion over the next couple of years. 

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