South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians

PETITIONER:South Florida Water Management District
RESPONDENT:Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, et al.
LOCATION:Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

DOCKET NO.: 02-626
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 541 US 95 (2004)
GRANTED: Jun 27, 2003
ARGUED: Jan 14, 2004
DECIDED: Mar 23, 2004

Dexter W. Lehtinen – argued the cause for Respondents
Jeffrey P. Minear – argued the cause for Petitioner, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae
Timothy S. Bishop – argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and the Friends of the Everglades sued the South Florida Water Management District under the Clean Water Act (CWA) in federal district court. The suit alleged that the water district violated the Clean Water Act by releasing pollutants from a pump system without a discharge elimination system permit. The Clean Water Act prohibits the “addition of any pollutant… from any point source” without a specific permit. The water district defended its action by claiming that it was not actually adding pollutants to the water, but merely transporting polluted water from one body of water to another, less polluted, body.

The district court ruled against the water district and found that it had violated the CWA by using the pump. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on this point, “conclud[ing] that the release of water caused by the… pump station’s operation constitutes an addition of pollutants from a point source.”


Does pumping water into a water conservation area – where the water being pumped contains a pollutant but the pumping station itself adds no pollutants to the water – violate the Clean Water Act’s prohibition of adding pollutants from a point source?

Media for South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 14, 2004 in South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 23, 2004 in South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 02-626, South Florida Water Management District versus Miccosukee Tribe of Indians will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O’Connor:

This case comes to us on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which held that the requirements of the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, the acronym for which is NPDES, apply to a water pumping station operated by the petitioner, the South Florida Water Management District.

We vacate the decision and remand it for further proceedings.

The pump station at issue is part of a drainage system that includes a canal and a wetland reservoir area.

The canal drains water from a developed area in South Florida and carries it west.

At the end of the canal, the pump station pumps the water into the wetland reservoir.

The water in the canal contains elevated levels of phosphorous that come from fertilizer use in the drainage basin.

When that water enters the wetland reservoir, the phosphorous carried with it causes ecological damage, and the Tribe, the respondent Tribe here, claims that because the pump station moves the phosphorous latent canal water into the wetland reservoir, it discharges pollutants to navigable waters within the meaning of the Clean Water Act, and therefore needs an NPDES permit.

And the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The Water District first argued before us that the pump station does not need a permit because the phosphorous does not originate from the pump station itself.

We disagree with that argument by its terms the NPDES program reaches point sources that merely convey pollutants to navigable waters even if those pollutants are generated elsewhere.

The Water District and Federal Government as amicus, also argued that for purposes of this permit program, all the navigable waters of the United States should be viewed as one undifferentiated whole.

Under that view, moving water from one water body to another, could never constitute an addition of pollutants to navigable water and the pump station would not need a permit.

This argument however was not presented below or in the petition for certiorari.

We think it is not fairly encompassed in the question presented.

We decline to resolve it here.

We still find it necessary to vacate the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion because of a third argument advanced by the Water District.

The District claims that the canal and wetland reservoir are not meaningfully distinct because the two water bodies share a close hydrological connection.

The District Court granted summary judgment for the Tribe on this issue, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

We believe, however, that factual disputes remain with regard to this question, and that summary judgment was therefore inappropriate.

Further development of the record is necessary to resolve the dispute.

Hence, we vacate the decision and remand for those proceedings.

Justice Scalia has written a separate opinion dissenting with respect to part of the opinion.