Rancho Sierra Vista Stables Sued for Environmental Impact of Horses

The Orange County Coastkeeper filed a complaint on Friday in the Central District of California alleging that a ranch with about 370 horses is violating the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) because it did not obtain a permit for pollution discharge as a medium-sized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). 

The defendants include Rancho Sierra Vista and Rancho HHO Land Corporation, both of which own and operate the Rancho Sierra Vista Stables. The stables provide riding rings, access to equestrian trails, and stabling for horses. The facility is considered a medium horse CAFO because it has between 150 and 499 horses and discharges pollutants into federal waters. The CAFO permit the facility reportedly needs would require monitoring, record-keeping, and reporting. 

The complaint alleged that the ranch owners discharge horse manure, bedding, trash, rubberized horse footing, fertilizers and polluted stormwater into the neighboring Trabuco Creek and other federal waters. Stormwater in the facility will reportedly run through manure before entering the storm drain which brings it to federal waters. 

The polluted creeks reportedly have “a wide variety of flora and fauna” which includes some endangered species, “the Pacific pocket mouse, the Southern California Coast Steelhead, the Quino checkerspot butterfly, (and) the southwestern willow flycatcher.” The areas have reportedly been classified as a critical habitat. 

The plaintiff stated that the suit is brought “under the citizen suit enforcement provision” of the CWA. Based on the coastkeeper’s investigation, the defendants are reportedly at fault for at least 1,825 violations of the CWA. 

The complaint stated that the defendants’ acts “have harmed, and continue to harm, both the mission of Plaintiff Orange County Coastkeeper and the interests of its members who use Trabuco Creek, San Juan Creek downstream of the Facility, and Doheny State Beach.” The plaintiff, represented by its own attorney, is reportedly seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for its over 1,400 members from the actions of the defendants as well as civil penalties.