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Meteorologists and Environmental Laws – West Coast Weather

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By Michael Fagin

Forensic meteorologists work with attorneys on litigation issues when weather events have an impact on some of the Washington State environmental laws. In particular we are involved with issues in the construction industry, land use, and with stormwater issues. Attorneys often seek expert testimony from experts like a Certified Consulting Meteorologist regarding the weather at the time of an event.

alt text: : Forensic meteorologists and  environmental laws

Construction projects depend
on resiliency to landslides. Slopes are particularly vulnerable to erosion,
which can cause dangerous environmental conditions and degradation. Wetlands
and aquifer recharge areas are also environmentally-sensitive areas.

Land
use permits

are granted by Washington State. The Office
for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance
aids with obtaining permits, required buffers and
attempted mitigations. Inspections are undertaken to ensure businesses aren’t
overly damaging land or water resources.

Industries must obtain and
follow best practices under the Construction Stormwater General Permit when
managing stormwater runoff, which contaminates
swimming waters, degrades drinking water, can damage wildlife habitats and adds
to floods. Following mandatory stormwater regulations aids large-scale
management.

The Washington
Department of Ecology
fines environmental rule violators, leading to expensive court
cases if contested. Commonly, construction project claims involve fill material
and monitoring data. Typical stormwater claims involve discharges into
stormwater systems: muddy flows, wastewater or simply excess stormwater.

The Need
for Forensic Meteorologists
 

Forensic Meteorologists are hired by attorneys to provide expert witness testimony regarding the state of the weather during an event. In dangerous weather circumstances, there are reasonable response times to abide by, as well as reasonable safety expectations. If the severity of a storm is very uncommon, such as a one-in-a-hundred year storm, courts might deem the circumstances unreasonable for meeting typical safety expectations.

            An example of a case we
helped litigate regarded a fine that a construction contractor from greater
Seattle received for non-compliance with stormwater discharge regulations.
Inspectors deemed the volume of stormwater drainage, a byproduct of their
construction practices, was too large. It was understood that heavy rains
caused the trouble but it was argued that the company could have helped to
prevent much of the runoff. Our meteorologists were able to prove that winter’s
rainfall was unprecedented – a so-called one-in-a-hundred year event.
Accordingly, it was deemed that the contractors would have been unable to
prevent the related damages, so they avoided the fine. 

Another attorney representing a sand and gravel firm in eastern Washington hired us to discuss their construction’s effects on the water table. The prospective depth of their dig stirred local concerns that a big pond would be created, which, once exposed to the atmosphere, would evaporate. Locals believed the excavation would lower the water table. The firm’s ability to obtain a building permit hinged on its ability to provide reasonable evidence that the water table wouldn’t drop significantly. Here at West Coast Weather, we looked at old climate data, evapotranspiration rates and ground cover. Then, we consulted with agricultural experts from Washington State University. We were able to show that minimal groundwater would evaporate from the gravel pit. The meteorological insight delivered in court was enough to green light permitting the company.

Article written by Meteorologist Geoff Linsley



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Source: West Coast Weather