In our last post, we began speaking about the problem of devaluation of lakeside property out in Vermont due to the growth of blue-green algae fueled by excess phosphorus from paved roads, farms, and sewage plants. The story raises the issue of what options homeowners have when they suffer harm—to their property or to themselves—as a result of water pollution.
The answer really depends on the circumstances of the case. It is possible, in some case, to pursue polluting parties under state law. Such claims might be based on theories of trespass, nuisance, negligence, or strict liability, depending on the circumstances of the alleged pollution. While these claims can be viable, it is often easier to pursue water pollution litigation under federal law, particularly the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollutants into “waters of the United States” and specifies specific quality standards for surface water in terms of pollutants. Among other things, the Clean Water Act makes it illegal to dump pollutants from point sources into navigable waters without a permit. The Environmental Protection Agency, together with federal and state regulatory agencies, is responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act, though private citizens are able to pursue litigation under the act as well, provided certain conditions are met. In addition to the Clean Water Act, there is also the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as Superfund, which requires polluting parties to fund the cleanup of polluted sites.
One of the challenges in any water pollution litigation is that it isn’t always easy to identify the parties responsible for pollution. This is more difficult the more parties are involved in the pollution. Ensuring that polluting parties are held accountable is not always easy, and it is important for those who’ve been harmed by pollution to work with an experienced attorney to take stock of their options and to obtain the advocacy they need.