Supreme Court Wrestles with Pivotal Clean Water Case

(November 6, 2019) – The US Supreme Court is holding oral arguments today in the most important Clean Water Act litigation to reach the High Court in over a decade.  The central legal question at issue is whether the transmittal of pollutants via groundwater can trigger Clean Water Act liability. 

The case, Hawaii Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui, focuses on whether NACWA Member Agency the Maui County Department of Environmental Protection must have a Clean Water Act (CWA) discharge permit for its underground injection wells that dispose of highly treated wastewater.  Two lower federal courts have agreed with environmental activist plaintiffs in the case that such permits are necessary.  If the Supreme Court agrees with this interpretation, which is not supported by the text of the CWA, it could lead to a dramatic increase of the CWA permitting program and have significant negative impacts on public clean water utilities. 

NACWA has been an active participant in the case in support of its utility member in Maui, including filing a brief with the Supreme Court pushing back against the environmental activist position. 

NACWA is closely following today arguments and will distribute an Advocacy Alert to the membership later this week with an analysis of the proceedings.  A decision from the Supreme Court is not expected until next year.  Please contact Amanda Waters, NACWA’s General Counsel, with any questions.