Update on Public Trust Groundwater Lawsuit

In the fall of 2022 Friends of the Eel River filed suit against Humboldt County for failing to protect the public trust values of the Lower Eel River by managing groundwater use during critically dry years. The public trust doctrine is an ancient legal principle establishing that certain natural and cultural resources should be preserved for public use.

Disconnected surface flows showing brown, bare patches of land in between water.
August 2014 | David Sopjes

Groundwater in the Lower Eel River basin is interconnected with surface flows of the Eel River. During critically dry years, groundwater pumping has compounded the impact of low flows, leading to unnecessary impacts on Eel River fisheries and wildlife.

Under the public trust doctrine, the state of California and its subdivisions have a duty to protect public trust values including fisheries, wildlife habitat, and recreation wherever feasible. By refusing to take any measures to regulate groundwater use in the lower Eel River basin, Humboldt County is failing to uphold its fiduciary duty to protect those values it holds in trust for public benefit.

Humboldt County moved to have the case dismissed as a matter of law, meaning they argued that we had no legal right to bring the case, regardless of the merits of the facts. This February, Humboldt Superior Court Judge Canning ruled that we “alleged sufficient facts which, if proven true, may support a judgment in (our) favor,” allowing our case to move ahead. Stay tuned as the case progresses and we continue to seek protection for the Lower Eel River.