On August 29, 2014, the California Legislature approved a package of bills aimed at managing groundwater extraction. For 100 years, the Legislature had declined to regulate groundwater extraction, and courts have refused to expand local or state agency control over the practice.
In the midst of California’s most severe drought in thirty years, legislators took an historic step towards remedying its long-term negative impacts on the state’s groundwater supply. On Friday, August 29th, the California Senate and Assembly passed a package of bills (SB 1168, SB 1319, and AB 1739) which aims to regulate the extraction of groundwater and establish a sustainable program of groundwater management over the next 50 years.
In Environmental Law Foundation, et al. v. State Water Resources Control Board, et al., Case No. 34-2010-80000583, three plaintiff organizations (collectively, ELF) claim that California's Public Trust Doctrine requires the State Water Resources Control Board (Board) and Siskiyou County (County) to regulate groundwater that is hydraulically connected to the navigable Scott River (Scott Groundwater). Although ELF's legal theory is sound, ELF chose the wrong case to test it. The Scott Groundwater already is subject to public-trust protections that are set forth in an existing Siskiyou County Superior Court Decree. Before it asks another Court to issue a new order based on a novel public-trust theory, ELF should seek better enforcement of the existing Decree.
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