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A point source is, by definition, a discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance. 33 U.S.C.S. § 1362(14). That definition makes plain that a point source need not be the original source of the pollutant; it need only convey the pollutant to "navigable waters," which are, in turn, defined as the waters of the United States. 33 U.S.C.S. § 1362(7). Tellingly, the examples of "point sources" listed by the Clean Water Act include pipes, ditches, tunnels, and conduits, objects that do not themselves generate pollutants but merely transport them. 33 U.S.C.S. § 1362(14). In addition, one of the Act's primary goals is to impose National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting requirements on municipal wastewater treatment plants.
The pump station emptied water from a canal into a water conservation area (WCA). Respondents, an Indian tribe and an environmental group, sued petitioner South Florida Water Management District (District) under the Clean Water Act, arguing that the District could not operate the pump station without a point source discharge permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System because the pump station moved phosphorous-laden water from the canal into the WCA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of respondents and the appellate court affirmed. Certiorari was granted.
Did the district court correctly grant summary judgment in favor of the respondents?
Regarding the question of whether the operation of the pump station, which did not add pollutants to the water, could constitute the "discharge of a pollutant" within the meaning of the Clean Water Act, the Court determined that the definition of "discharge of a pollutant" contained in 33 U.S.C.S. § 1362(12) included within its reach point sources that did not themselves generate pollutants. However, the Court determined that summary judgment was inappropriate because further development of the record was necessary to resolve the dispute over whether the canal and the WCA were distinct water bodies.