Ninth Circuit rules Clean Water Act permit required for indirect discharge to ocean waters

It was a great exam question (at least I thought so — you’ll have to ask my Environmental Law and Policy students if they agree): does the disposal of treated wastewater from a municipal wastewater treatment plant into the ground through injection wells located a short distance from the ocean require  an NPDES permit under the Clean Water Act? Like most great exam questions, this one was drawn from real life. That means it has a real (albeit not necessarily conclusive) answer, which the Ninth Circuit provided last week in Hawai’i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui. I’m giving the panel a high grade. Maui County’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility treats some 4 million gallons of sewage daily. Four injection wells, located within a quarter mile of the shoreline, provide the primary means of disposing of the treated wastewater from the facility. The County has never had (or even sought) a Clean Water Act permit for its wells. When it…

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