News | October 16, 2009

SELC Prevails in Stormwater Legal Action

On October 15, as a court ruling in the case neared, a group of corporate development and other special interests dropped its lawsuit against the Storm Water Management Authority (SWMA). SELC had intervened in the case on behalf of the Cahaba River Society and Black Warrior River Keeper to defend the authority's role in monitoring storm water pollution in the greater Birmingham area and enforcing federal and state laws. The Business Alliance for Responsible Development (BARD) would not have prevailed on a single aspect of its claim that SWMA was exceeding the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.

Unfortunately, BARD's lawsuit, filed in 2005, has set water pollution control efforts in Jefferson County back by several years and increased costs for  the county and other jurisdictions. SWMA has weakened substantially under intense lobbying by BARD over the last four years, and, lacking support from the notoriously lax ADEM, Jefferson County and other localities now face increased liability for potentially failing to comply with the Clean Water Act.

Going forward, SELC and our partners will continue to engage with local officials and regulators to ensure that Jefferson County and the other Birmingham-area utilities have robust stormwater management permits and programs that are implemented and enforced.


The Cahaba River and the Black Warrior River provide much of the drinking water for the growing Birmingham metropolitan area.  According to federal standards, however, both rivers are considered polluted by stormwater run-off.

Stormwater contains toxics such as pesticides and gasoline, which increase the cost of purifying the water for public consumption. Sediment and nutrients in run-off destroy aquatic habitats and trigger algae growth, which can lead to fish kills and a decline in biodiversity. For some species, even a small change in habitat could mean extinction.

SWMA, comprised of local jurisdictions to combine resources and expertise, is the first line of defense against pollution. SWMA inspects stormwater sites, monitors pollution in streams, enforces run-off regulations, according to federal Clean Water Act requirements, and keeps residents informed of important water issues.

In 2005, BARD sued SWMA, claiming it was exceeding its authority.  The business group undertook an intensive lobbying campaign to persuade localities to withdraw over time, and only a handful of smaller cities currently remain in the stormwater authority.