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Challenging Washington’s Building and Polluted Runoff Rules

Seattle drenched by an autumn storm.

Seattle drenched by an autumn storm. When storm water runs off parking lots, buildings, and other urban development, it carries with it a mix of toxic metals.

Photo courtesy of Peter Mooney

What’s at Stake

An Earthjustice lawsuit forced the state of Washington to drop an agreement with Clark County to operate under inadequate standards that would allow excessive water pollution.


Earthjustice represented three conservation organizations in asking the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board to throw out an agreement between Clark County and the Washington Department of Ecology in which the state authorized inadequate development standards that will generate illegal storm water pollution.

Storm water—runoff from developed areas containing a toxic brew of metals, grease, pesticides and herbicides—is the number one water quality problem in Puget Sound. The Environmental Protection Agency released a report that identifies storm water as a leading cause of toxic pollution in the Columbia Basin. When storm water runs off parking lots, buildings, and other urban development, it carries toxic metals, particularly copper and zinc, which harm salmon and other aquatic life.

In a major decision in June 2013, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton ruled Clark County’s weak development standards that allow too much polluted runoff, violate clean water laws. The ruling signaled an end to the county’s long-time failure to protect rivers, streams and salmon threatened with extinction.

Case Updates

June 11, 2013 | In the News: The Columbian

County violated Clean Water Act for three years, judge says

A federal judge has ruled that Clark County was in violation of the Clean Water Act between August 17, 2008 and December 28, 2011, a period of over three years. The County violated its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit when it refused to adopt state standards for managing polluted runoff, claiming that the standards placed an undue burden on private developers. Clark County will be liable for damages and could face stiff penalties.