Georgia Stormwater Run-Off Damage
More and more often, residential and commercial real estate development throughout the Southeast is harming neighboring property owners and the environment in general. The development activity usually begins by turning what was once a forest or field into a tract of land totally denuded of any vegetative ground cover. At the development activity's conclusion, the tract of land contains impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, driveways, and rooftops. With the vegetative ground cover replaced by impervious surfaces, excess stormwater run-off creates erosion problems for nearby properties and waterways because the developers often fail to install adequate erosion control measures and storm water drainage systems.
Stormwater run-off damages nearby properties in various ways. The stormwater diverted onto adjacent properties that previously received little, if any, run-off gouges deep erosion gullies into the land. Often, the diverted stormwater floods adjacent properties. In addition, the stormwater run-off carrying silt, sediment and other debris eventually deposits these solids on adjoining properties. Worse still, stormwater laden with dissolved pollutants from parking lots eventually deposits the harmful substances directly into wetlands, streams and lakes harming these fragile ecosystems and leading to the loss of habitat for many organisms and animals. In severe cases, portions of lakes become silted-in leaving a property owner with dry land where he or she once launched boats or fished. Usually, the culprit is greed. Too often, the real estate developer cuts corners by spending as little money as possible on erosion control measures. Similarly, some real estate developers cut financial corners when building storm water drainage systems by constructing detention ponds that are severely undersized and incapable of handling the actual volume of stormwater leaving the development site. Local authorities may attempt to enforce the state's erosion and stormwater control laws; however, these efforts all too often fail to prevent the damage to our environment that these laws seek to prevent. Fortunately, state and federal laws provide trial lawyers with an opportunity to represent the property owners victimized by runaway development and, in the process, to help protect our natural resources.
Trespass and Nuisance Law in Georgia
A trespass is any act which unlawfully interferes with a property owner's absolute right to enjoy his or her property including unauthorized entries onto the property.
A nuisance is any act or condition that causes hurt, inconvenience, or damage to another even when the act or condition may otherwise be lawful.
In a surface water invasion case, the continuing diversion of surface water onto another's property amounts to a continuing trespass, which is the equivalent of a continuing nuisance.
The owner of a lower tract of property is required to receive surface waters which normally flow from the higher lot. However, the owner of the higher tract has no right to concentrate and collect water and thus cause it to discharge upon downstream property in greater volumes or at a greater velocity than the water would be received by the lower property if it simply ran down upon it by the law of gravity.
Negligence and Negligence Per Se
Numerous local, state and federal laws regulate water resources and land use. Most cities and counties have regulations restricting real estate development's impact on the environment, and states such as Georgia have enacted laws designed to protect our water resources from pollutants including stormwater laden with silt and sediment. A violation of these various laws and regulations by a developer may constitute negligence and/or negligence per se.
Clean Water Act
Discharges of sediment, sand, and dirt into jurisdictional waters constitute pollution under the federal Clean Water Act ("CWA"). Land developers must acquire a permit before discharging any pollutants into waters of the United States, and any violations of the permit subjects the developer to the citizen suit provisions of the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act authorizes the judge to impose a $27,500.00 penalty payable to the United States Treasury for each violation of the CWA. Each day a pollutant remains in the environment constitutes a continuing discharge and subjects the developer to another $27,500.00 fine.
At Andrews, Knowles & Princenthal, we utilize the laws discussed above to obtain justice for property owners in stormwater invasion cases.