LOS ANGELES – The nonprofit group Environment California on Tuesday sent a formal notice of intent to sue the Port of Los Angeles for approximately 2,000 days of alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The group charges that, for years, the Port has routinely exceeded legal limits on the fecal bacteria, copper and several other pollutants it discharges into San Pedro Bay.  

Environment California also alleges that the Port’s stormwater treatment system is drastically undersized and that, as a result, untreated wastewater frequently bypasses the system entirely, in violation of federal law.

Stormwater pollution after rainfall frequently forces closure of Southern California beaches. Inner Cabrillo Beach, located at the edge of the Los Angeles Harbor and just downstream from the Port, was ranked as one of the beaches with the most potentially unsafe days in Environment America’s 2023 “Safe for Swimming?” report

At issue is stormwater conveyed from an approximately 53-acre portion of the Port, located about 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, to an on-site treatment system. That system is supposed to remove the grit, toxic metals and bacteria that accumulate on the property during dry weather and then end up in stormwater.

However, Environment California says, the Port’s treatment system is both ineffective and undersized. As a result, the Port has consistently violated the Clean Water Act for years by discharging excessive, illegal levels of fecal bacteria and copper.  Despite regularly paying a “mandatory minimum” state penalty of $3,000 per violation, the violations continue unabated. 

“This is a classic case of ‘pay-to-pollute,’ where the Port habitually violates its Clean Water Act permit, pays a slap-on-the-wrist-penalty, and then, undeterred, just goes right on polluting,” said Laura Deehan, Environment California’s state director. “It is long past time for the Port to take responsibility for its pollution control failures and stop, once and for all, contaminating our waters and beaches.”

Under the federal Clean Water Act’s citizen suit provision, private citizens affected by violations of the law are allowed to bring an enforcement action against the violator in federal court. The first step in that process is providing 60 days’ notice of the violations to the violator, as well as to state and federal environmental agencies. Citizens can seek civil penalties and a court order requiring the violator to upgrade its facilities to comply with the law and remediate the harm caused by its violations. 

“As storms become more severe due to climate change, it is imperative that the Port upgrade treatment systems to keep pollution out of our water,” explained Deehan. “The Port makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year from fees charged to the largest shipping companies in the world. It has no excuse for being a serial and serious violator of clean water laws by failing to improve its pollution prevention system.”

The Port is a department of the City of Los Angeles that is entirely funded through leasing and shipping fees assessed on more than 200 shipping companies that use the Port. Trademarked as “America’s Port,” it has been the number one container port in the United States for each of the last 24 years. The Port encompasses 7,500 acres of land and water, handles around $300 billion worth of cargo each year, and had net operating revenues of $357 million in 2023.  


Environment California is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization working for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate. For more information about our work, visit https://environmentamerica.org/california/

Environment California is represented by the Boston-based, non-profit National Environmental Law Center, which represents citizen groups across the country in actions to enforce the nation’s environmental laws, and by environmental attorney David Nicholas of Newton, Massachusetts. For more information, visit www.NELC.org.