Known as “America’s Port,” the Port of Los Angeles is the largest container ship port in the Western Hemisphere, encompassing some 7,500 acres and handling almost $1 billion worth of cargo every single day.  Despite the size and scope of the Port’s operations, NELC attorneys have determined that a major wastewater treatment system at the site is woefully undersized and ineffective.  Groundwater and stormwater passing through large industrial sites like the Port inevitably sweep up myriad pollutants.  To help prevent such pollutants from entering San Pedro Bay, the Port is required to direct stormwater from a 53-acre portion of the facility to a wastewater treatment system designed to remove harmful bacteria and heavy metals.  Unfortunately, this crucial system is simply not up to the task: as the Port recently acknowledged, even the small amount of groundwater the system receives on days without rain nearly exceeds its treatment capacity.  On rainy days, we believe the system is able to treat only a fraction of the polluted stormwater, forcing the Port to discharge anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of gallons of untreated stormwater directly into California’s coastal waters, having bypassed the treatment system entirely. 

For decades, the Port has simply paid California’s mandatory minimum penalty of $3,000 per violation of its permitted limits on harmful bacteria and copper, and then continued violating.  Meanwhile, nearby Southern California beaches, like Cabrillo Beach and the beaches of Long Beach, are frequently closed to the public after rain events due to human health hazards posed by high levels of the same bacteria.

In May 2024, NELC sent the Port a 60-day notice of intent to sue on behalf of the non-profit group Environment California. The notice letter, as required under the Clean Water Act, identifies the facility’s longstanding compliance failures, and represents the first step in a legal process intended to secure compliance, increase transparency in Port operations, and protect the waters and beaches of San Pedro Bay.