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Lawsuit alleges county failure to monitor groundwater

Siskiyou Daily News-6/29/10
By David Smith

A lawsuit recently filed in the California Superior Court in Sacramento County seeks to have the court compel the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and Siskiyou County to fix alleged groundwater regulation failures in the Scott Valley watershed.

The petition, filed by the Environmental Law Foundation and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations Institute for Fisheries Resources, states that the petition has been filed “to challenge the pattern and practice of the [SWRCB] and [Siskiyou County] of failing to manage groundwater resources interconnected with the Scott River in a manner consistent with the Public Trust Doctrine of California (‘PTD’).

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“The failures of the SWRCB and the County injure the Scott River as well as the fish and wildlife therein, which are protected public trust (‘PT’) resources.” In a prepared document from the California State Lands Commission, the PTD is described as being “‘a title held in trust for the people of the State that they may enjoy the navigation of the waters, carry on commerce over them, and have liberty of fishing’ free from obstruction or interference from private parties.”

The petitioners in the suit state that they believe the SWRCB “has a duty under the PTD to continuously review, manage and protect groundwater resources that are hydrologically connected to PT waters, a duty that is particularly applicable in the Scott River sub-basin.”

The petitioners claim that that duty has not been met for a lack of regulation and monitoring of groundwater use beyond a 500-foot or less zone along the river.

“The physical hydrologic connection between the surface flow and groundwater extends beyond 500 feet from the Scott River, and the continual extraction of the interconnected groundwater both within and beyond the zone of adjudication is contributing to the Scott River’s current deteriorating environmental condition” and injuring the waterway and the fish that reside within, the petitioners claim.

The petitioners state that they believe a failure to do adequate groundwater monitoring has harmed and continues to harm salmon that inhabit the Scott River and its tributaries and by definition, the public trust, citing dry river conditions in recent years and the danger those conditions may pose to juvenile salmon.

“Specifically, the County is failing to protect the Scott River from numerous and injurious extractions of interconnected groundwater through their pattern and practice of issuing new well drilling permits without any analysis of the impacts those potential groundwater extractions could have on the Scott River. In turn, these groundwater extractions are causing injury to the Scott River and the fish and wildlife therein,” the petitioners claim.

In the event that the court finds that groundwater hydrologically connected to navigable surface flows and protected by the PTD should be managed and protected in a manner consistent with that document and that the SWRCB and Siskiyou County are failing to do so, the petitioners request that the court compel the SWRCB to determine the current zone of hydrological interconnectedness between the groundwater and surface flows of the Scott River and perform groundwater monitoring and review, including adoption and implementation of groundwater management plans, “as are necessary to fully protect and restore the public trust resources of the Scott River.”

The lawsuit, filed on June 23, came after the final Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors meeting of the month and has yet to be discussed in that setting. However, in 2006, the board entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Siskiyou Resource Conservation District, the Natural Resource Conservation District Watershed Team, the Scott River Watershed Council and the University of California Cooperative Extension at Davis to create and maintain a “Scott Valley Community Groundwater Measuring Program.”

The stated objective of that MOU is “to understand changes in the recharge/discharge balance in the Scott Valley aquifer, particularly how this balance changes by location in the valley, by season of year, and as a result of inter-annual variations in precipitation and climate” for the floor of the Scott Valley. Proscribed actions in the MOU have been ongoing since 2006, and are intended to continue indefinitely for the included parties, noted Dr. Sari Sommarstrom, a scientific consultant in the Scott Valley, who added that over 40 wells are currently monitored by the Siskiyou Resource Conservation District.

The board of supervisors also approved in 2008 a groundwater study plan prepared by Dr. Thomas Harter and graduate student Ryan Hines of the Groundwater Cooperative Extention Program at the University of California, Davis. The plan can be found at groundwater.ucdavis.edu/ScottValley.htm.