ONRC Action v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 08-21-2015
  • Case #: 12-35831
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Clifton for the Court; Circuit Judges M. Smith, Jr. and Hurwitz
  • Full Text Opinion

When water is transferred from one portion of that body of water to another, and the bodies are not meaningfully distinct from one another, no pollutants are deemed added, and a permit under the Clean Water Act is not required.

ONCR Action is an Oregon-based environmental group, who filed a citizen’s suit under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), alleging that the Bureau of Reclamation (“the Bureau”) and other defendants violated the CWA by dumping pollutants into the Klamath River from the Klamath Straits Drain (“KSD”) without a permit. Specifically, ONCR Action alleges that the Bureau has been adding pollutants from a point source to navigable waters in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a). The CWA makes no prohibitions against pollutants added from a nonpoint source. Upon review, a magistrate judge granted summary judgement to the Bureau, finding that the discharge of pollution from the KSD was exempt under § 1311(a). ONCR Action appealed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit upheld the granting of the Bureau’s summary judgment, holding that when water is transferred between different portions of a body of water, no pollution is added. The panel found that the KSD was not a meaningfully distinct body of water from the Klamath River, and that no permit was required by the CWA. AFFIRMED.

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