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Karuk Tribe of N. Cal. v. California Regional Water Quality Control Bd.

ELR Citation: 40 ELR 20107
Nos. Nos. A124351 et al., (Cal. Ct. App., 03/30/2010)

A California appellate court affirmed a lower court decision that held that the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (Board) had no authority to enforce state law governing waste discharge to several hydroelectric dams operating under a federal license. The United States Supreme Court, followed by the Ninth Circuit, has twice validated expansive federal authority in the form of the Federal Power Act over the conditions governing operation of hydroelectric projects. The lower court therefore correctly recognized that it should not compel the Board to upset this long-settled applecart. At the same time, the lower court abused its discretion in granting attorneys fees to the plaintiffs because the statutory prerequisites under Code of Civil Procedure §1021.5 are absent. From a realistic appreciation of the entirety of the litigation, plaintiffs did not prevail on a significant issue and do not qualify as successful parties; they did not enforce an important public right; and they did not confer a significant benefit on the general public or a large class of persons.