Judgment for Environmental Law Foundation's lawsuit against Siskiyou County affirmed

By Gabriel Neves | Sep 10, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – A California superior court decision granting summary judgment on a case involving the use of waterways has been affirmed by an appellate court.

California Judge Vance Raye, on the bench of the California Third District Court of Appeal, issued a 27-page ruling Aug. 29 upholding the Superior Court of Sacramento County decision to grant summary judgment in the Environmental Law Foundation's (ELF) case against Siskiyou County and the State Water Resources Control Board.

ELF sued the county and the Board in regards to the extraction of groundwater on the Scott River.

As stated in the ruling, "the county established a permit program for the construction standards for new wells and a groundwater management program that regulates the extraction of groundwater for use outside the basin from which it is extracted."

When analyzing the subject, per the ruling, the lower court considered the public trust doctrine that "protects the Scott River and the public’s right to use the Scott River for trust purposes, including fishing, rafting and boating," as well as it also "protects the public’s right to use, enjoy and preserve the Scott River in its natural state and as a habitat for fish," applying the doctrine "if the extraction of groundwater near the Scott River adversely affects those rights."

Also mentioned in the decision, prior to granting the summary judgment, the lower court was presented with the issue of "whether the Board has the authority and duty under the public trust doctrine to regulate extractions of groundwater that affect public trust uses in the Scott River." 

The lower court then granted the judgment to the ELF and the Board against the county, stating that "the Water Code as a whole, as construed by the courts, ‘vest[s] in the Board broad adjudicatory and regulatory power and suggest the Board’s regulatory authority is coincident with that of the Legislature," and that "given the Board’s broad authority to administer the state’s water resources, it is but a short step to the conclusion that the Board has the authority to administer the public trust on behalf of the state."

In his ruling, Raye stated that the county mischaracterized public trust when appealing from the lower court decision.

"By repeatedly referring to the fact that no court has held that groundwater constitutes a public trust resource nor imposed on the state or a county the duty to regulate groundwater, the county begins with a false premise," Raye said, adding that "the trial court found a duty to consider any adverse impacts groundwater extraction would have on a public trust resource, the Scott River."

California Third District Court of Appeal case number C083239

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