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The City Project Equal Justice, Democracy, and Livability for All

Clean Water Justice

Freshwater National Call to Action

National Call to Action to Head off Looming Freshwater Crisis
Charting New Waters: A Call to Action to Address U.S. Freshwater Challenges

Economy, public health, social justice, and ecosystems threatened without new direction in freshwater management by public and private sectors, diverse coalition cautions

WASHINGTON – The City Project joined a diverse coalition of businesses, farmers, environmental and social justice not-for-profits and government agencies today in issuing a landmark call to action aimed at heading off a national crisis in water quality and supply that could affect the nation’s economy, the livability of our communities for all, and the health of our ecosystems.

“Charting New Waters: A Call to Action to Address U.S. Freshwater Challenges,” is the culmination of an intensive two-year collaboration exploring solutions to U.S. freshwater challenges.  It was presented to the Obama Administration at a meeting of federal agencies convened by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and released to the public during a noon forum at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

“There [is] broad consensus among participants that our current path will, unless changed, lead us to a national freshwater crisis in the foreseeable future,” the Call to Action reports. “This reality encompasses a wide array of challenges … that collectively amount to a tenuous trajectory for the future of the nation’s freshwater resources.”

According to Erica Flores Baltodano, a Staff Attorney with The City Project who joined in issuing the report in Washington:  “The City Project is committed to working with the coalition on environmental quality, environmental justice and fresh water across the nation. When we act, we need to:

  • Consider the impacts of freshwater solutions on all people and places, including minority and low-income urban and rural communities.
  • Seek robust multibenefit solutions and triple-bottom-line outcomes that address environmental, economic and social equity challenges.
  • Employ inclusive, fair and transparent public participation processes, including respectful consultation with Native Americans.
  • Develop a diverse high-quality workforce with local green jobs that pay livable wages, promote healthy neighborhoods, and put the nation back to work.
  • Work with the Obama Administration to ensure compliance with equal justice laws and principles through freshwater projects funded by taxpayers’ dollars.”

The document is believed to be the first such comprehensive, cross-sector examination of U.S. freshwater challenges and solutions. It represents consensus recommendations of diverse interests convened by The Johnson Foundation at the Fresh Water Summit at Wingspread in Racine, Wisconsin.

“For too long, our society has treated water as a cheap, non-strategic and infinitely available resource.  Not anymore. Threats to water quality and access are putting our businesses, communities and way of life in jeopardy. The time to act is now,” said S. Curtis Johnson, chairman of Diversey Inc., a leading global provider of cleaning and hygiene solutions to the institutional marketplace and co-signer of the Call to Action.

“Freshwater is our most precious resource and the lifeblood of our economy – industry, agriculture and energy generation all depend heavily on adequate supplies of freshwater. Water quality in our natural and municipal freshwater systems is vital to the health and livability of our communities,” said Helen Johnson-Leipold, chairman of The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread.  “The Foundation and its many partners in this collaboration offer the Call to Action as a means of bringing overdue attention to our nation’s freshwater challenges and sparking action to address them.”

In addition to signing onto the Call to Action, the parties in this groundbreaking initiative also made commitments to work together to take actions to address freshwater challenges.

“The City Project is committed to clean water and equal justice.   We are enforcing  the Clean Water Act with communities of color and low income communities in the Baldwin Hills and South Central Los Angeles, working together with  federal, state and local authorities.  We are working with grass roots groups and government leaders on multibenefit projects along the Los Angeles River, where public education programs address conservation, sustainable freshwater practices, and equal justice for all.  These are best practice examples for the nation, cited in the Call to Action,” according to Robert García, Executive Director and Counsel of The City Project, who co-signed the Call to Action and participated in the Fresh Water Summit. For additional information, please visit

Click here to download the Freshwater Call to Action . . .

Click here to download the Freshwater Commitment to Action . . .

For additional information about the Call to Action, or to learn more about The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, please visit

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Enforcing the Clean Water Act in Communities of Color

Using Clean Water Act to Stop Sewer Odors in Baldwin Hills and South Central Los Angeles

The City Project working with the community in South Central Los Angeles and Baldwin Hills is ensuring compliance with the Clean Water Act to eliminate persistent and offensive sewer odors that have long plagued residents in the historic heart of African-American Los Angeles. The Los Angeles sewer system is one of the largest, making this work significant both in southern California and nationally.

After years of complaints, community residents sought access to justice through the courts in 2001 by joining a suit by the United States Department of Justice, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board and a mainstream environmental organization to require the City of Los Angeles to fix the sewer system citywide.  The suit resulted in a $2 billion settlement agreement and court order in 2004.  The Clean Water Act was used for the first time to address sewage odors, separate from spills. EPA officials called the historic agreement “one of the largest sewage cases in U.S. history.”

In 2009, the parties and the court agreed to modify the settlement agreement to enable community groups to continue to work with the Odor Advisory Board, an independent expert, The City Project, and the city to continue the clean up of the sewer odors.

As the City of Los Angeles reported in July 2010: “the City . . . is working with the community, especially in South Los Angeles, to address, mitigate and control sewer related odors. Many measures and projects have been implemented and more are on the way. These include an odor hotline, pressure and sewer gas monitoring, a citizen advisory board, sewer cleaning, installation or replacement of sewer gas traps, chemical addition and the construction of state-of-the-art air treatment facilities (ATFs). Two ATFs are under construction and should be operational within the next six months.”

This case is a best practice example for seeking environmental quality and justice. Grass roots participation requires full and fair information to work effectively with government officials, as the advisory board is doing. Access to justice through the courts is also a profoundly democratic First Amendment right that is essential to secure a place at the table for the people. Multibenefit projects like water, park and sewer projects improve environmental quality and quality of life for all. The results here would not have been achieved by the city alone, and not by EPA, the state water board, mainstream environmentalists and their attorneys. The African American community and civil rights attorneys reframed the environmental issues as environmental justice for all.

Baldwin Hills / South Central Los Angeles Air Treatment Facility (ATF) Clean Water Act Sewer Odor Case

Air treatment facility at the base of the Baldwin Hills 2010

The following is a summary timeline of this historic work.

Making Legal History: Federal and State Agencies join with Community Groups to Enforce the Clean Water Act

In 1998, Santa Monica Baykeeper, a mainstream environmental organization filed suit against the City of Los Angeles over the sewer system.

In 2001, community groups, the United States Department of Justice, United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board  joined the suit to address  sewer spills and severe nuisance odors caused by poor operation and maintenance of the City’s sewage system in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and state law.

Civil rights attorneys Robert García and English, Munger & Rice represented the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners’ Association, Inc., Baldwin Hills Village Garden Homes Association, United Homeowners Association, Village Green Owners Association, and Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles.  These community groups joined the suit because sewer odors and spills occurred disproportionately in African-American and Latino communities.

2004 Court Order and $2 Billion Settlement Agreement: Protecting Equal Rights and the Environment

After the city admitted liability for more than 3,500 sewage spills, six years of litigation ended with a 107-page settlement agreement and a $2 billion investment by the City of Los Angeles to improve the sewer system citywide and clean up noxious sewer odors. The city agreed to invest in environmental projects, including park, creek, and wetland restoration, to improve water quality in Los Angeles.

The $2 billion settlement serves as a best practice example of how grassroots community groups, civil rights attorneys, government agencies, and mainstream environmentalists could work together and have a huge impact in protecting quality of life and social justice as well as water and air quality.

2009 Modified Court Order and Agreement: Improving Community Participation and Protection

In 2008, the city reported that it had made progress with most of the terms of the 2004 agreement, but requested additional time to continue to clean up odors in South Los Angeles and Baldwin Hills.  After months of negotiations among all parties, The City Project, and English Munger & Rice, the 2004 settlement was modified by court order in November 2009.

Under the 2009 agreement, The City Project is serving as community liaison to work with neighborhood leaders, an independent odor expert, and the city to revitalize the Odor Advisory Board.  The Board, which is community-based and community-focused, the expert and The City Project are working with the city to ensuring compliance with the Clean Water Act and the 2009 agreement. The city has received additional time to complete Air Treatment Facilities, and study if more are needed.  Once the study is complete, the Board and The City Project will help develop and implement landscaping and other community enhancements with the community and the city.

For more information about this ongoing work . . .

Please contact Erica Flores Baltodano, Staff Attorney at The City Project, at, or 213-977-1035, if you would like more information about the Odor Advisory Board and this ongoing work.

Click here to see the April 5, 2010, Odor Advisory Board Meeting Agenda.

Click here to see the July 12, 2010, Odor Advisory Board Meeting Agenda.

Click here to see the August 30, 2010, Odor Advisory Board Meeting Agenda.

Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Handout: Overview of Sewer Air Flow and Odors.

Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: NORS Siphon Air Line Feasibility Study.

Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Sewer Siphons Duct Connection Study.

Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Differential Air Pressure Study at Drop Structures.

Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Total Non-Methane Hydrocarbon Monitoring Results.

Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Airflow Modeling Study.

Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Air Treatment Facility Technical Memorandum.

Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique of the City of LA's ATF Draft Final Report (Nov. 2010).


The City Project has worked with the community in South Central Los Angeles and the Baldwin Hills for ten years to enforce Clean Water protections, create the Baldwin Hills Park, and regulate the Baldwin Hills oil field to protect human health and the environment.  Learn more about this work at