August 28, 2014

Siskiyou County seeks high court review of groundwater decision

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

Last month, the Sacramento Superior Court issued a decision in Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board, holding among other things that Siskiyou County cannot issue any new well permits unless it assesses the impacts of new groundwater withdrawals on the Scott River.  The decision is the first of a California court holding that the common law public trust doctrine extends, under any circumstance, to groundwater extraction.

This week, the County filed an original writ in the California Supreme Court asking for immediate review of the trial court’s decision.  Although such direct review is generally not granted, the California Supreme Court has often agreed to such review of cases presenting issues concerning water rights and the public trust doctrine (for example, such review was granted in the Court’s leading public trust doctrine decision, National Audubon Society v. Superior Court).  For the high court to address and definitively resolve the public trust doctrine’s relationship to groundwater would undoubtedly have a significant impact on the Legislature’s debate over whether to enact a new regulatory regime for groundwater extraction.

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