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Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20158
Nos. 34-2010-80000583, (Cal. Super. Ct., 07/15/2014)

A California court held that the public trust doctrine protects navigable waterways from harm caused by groundwater extraction. Concerned about the management of the Scott River in northern California, environmental groups filed suit against Siskiyou County, claiming the county must consider the public trust prior to issuing well drilling permits. The court agreed, holding that the public trust doctrine protects navigable waters from harm caused by extraction of groundwater where the groundwater is so connected to the navigable water that its extraction adversely affects public trust uses. The county argued that the doctrine does not apply to groundwater because groundwater is not navigable. But the court clarified that the public trust doctrine does not apply to groundwater itself. Rather, the doctrine applies if extraction of groundwater adversely impacts a navigable waterway to which the public trust doctrine does apply. Because the groups alleged facts sufficient to entitle them to a writ or injunction compelling the county to consider the public trust when it issues well drilling permits, the court granted their motion for judgment on the pleadings.