This initiative seeks to anticipate and reduce emerging threats to water quality in California’s surface and groundwater. In the four decades since the passage of the Clean Water Act, many new hazards have emerged. Existing laws and regulations may not effectively manage the risks presented by population growth, new development patterns, changing natural conditions such as climate change, and infrastructure deterioration. This initiative seeks to increase our ability to effectively manage existing water quality threats, while developing tools necessary to respond to new challenges. Two of our current focus areas are infrastructure innovation – including green stormwater infrastrucuture – and responding to threats from existing and emerging practices such as hydraulic fracturing.
Sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) that reach waterways or violate discharge permits are considered violations of the Clean Water Act. While government authorities are generally responsible for enforcement of the law, the Clean Water Act’s citizen suit provision allows private individuals or groups to address gaps in government enforcement. Public collection system agencies and environmental groups have widely divergent perceptions of the effectiveness and appropriateness of SSO-related citizen enforcement. Motivated by this controversy and the lack of data-driven analysis of the topic, our report assembles available data to examine the nature and impacts of these citizen enforcement actions in California over the past two decades.
Our 2013 report on hydraulic fracturing in California focused on potential water quality impacts, and included a synthesis of the state of knowledge on this then-emerging topic for California, plus discussion of the legal and regulatory context. In the face of scientific uncertainty, our report urged caution, greater transparency, and increased accountability for oil and gas operators. Our work resulted in substantial media coverage and invited testimony. Many of our recommendations were ultimately reflected in SB4.