January 18, 2017

Appeals Court Sides with SFWMD in Major Legal Victory
Ruling frees taxpayers from costly permitting obstruction in the operation of South Florida's water management system
West Palm Beach, FL - In a decision that saves South Florida families potentially billions, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (New York) ruled that entities such as the South Florida Water Management District do not need costly federal permits to transfer water in operating water management systems: Trout Unlimited, Inc. et al, v. EPA et al, Docket No. 14-1823. The SFWMD intervened in this case supporting the EPA.

"For decades, South Florida's network of canals, pump stations and levees have successfully delivered flood protection while supplying water to millions of families, visitors and the environment," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Dan O'Keefe. "In this critical ruling, the court has affirmed that SFWMD can continue its crucial work without the burdens of additional federal regulation."

The ruling that impacts water management on a national scale affirms SFWMD's system, which serves 8.1 million people from Orlando to the Florida Keys, is consistent with the Clean Water Act. As such, SFWMD does not need National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to operate its system. Obtaining such permits is a complicated, litigious and costly endeavor.

In 1998, the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida sued SFWMD, alleging that an Everglades Agricultural Area pump station protecting western Broward County from flooding required an NPDES permit. 

In 2003, Friends of the Everglades sued SFWMD, alleging the same permits were needed for several other pump stations that protect communities south of Lake Okeechobee from flooding.

In 2006, the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida ordered SFWMD to apply for NPDES permits for some of these  pump stations.

In 2008, the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted a Water Transfers Rule confirming NPDES permits were not necessary for certain water management systems. Later that year, the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (Atlanta) reversed the Florida court, ruling that the NPDES permitting process did not apply to SFWMD pump stations based on EPA's rule.

In 2014, the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York struck down the EPA rule relied on by the 11th Circuit, which threatened the previous decision favoring Florida.

Today, the New York appellate court, in a 2-1 decision, reinstated EPA's rule. This means that NPDES permits are not required to operate South Florida's water control and flood protection system.
Media Contact: 
Randy Smith  |   rrsmith@sfwmd.gov    |  Office: 561-682-2800  |  Cell: 561-389-3386
The South Florida Water Management District is a regional governmental agency that manages the water resources in the southern part of the state. It is the oldest and largest of the state's five water management districts. Our mission is to protect South Florida's water resources by balancing and improving flood control, water supply, water quality and natural systems.


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