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River ruling could boost regulation of groundwater
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SACRAMENTO  (AP) — An attorney said Thursday he expects to appeal a potentially precedent-setting court finding that could make local governments responsible for controlling the largely unregulated pumping of groundwater in the state.

The issue is especially critical as California goes through the worst drought in a generation. As much as 60 percent of the water used in the state comes from underground sources in drought years, according to the nonprofit California Water Foundation.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner ruled Tuesday that Siskiyou County had to evaluate the impact of groundwater pumping on the Scott River.

Fishing associations and the Oakland-based Environmental Law Foundation sued the county and the state Water Resources Control Board, charging that groundwater pumping was drawing down water in the Scott River.

“The court ... has fundamentally changed some basic principles of California water law,” said Rod Walston, Siskiyou County’s attorney in the case.

Walston said he expects the county to ask a state appeals court to overturn Sumner’s decision.

Environmental groups say California is one of a few states in the country with no comprehensive statewide regulation to save slow-to-renew underground water from being drained dry by over-pumping. A ruling by the state appeals court on the issue would apply to all counties, the Environmental Law Foundation’s James Wheaton, a lead attorney in the case, said.

The new decision “is the first time someone in authority has said we need to manage groundwater,” Wheaton said.

He hopes the ruling will prompt regulators to take action,

“If they don’t do it, the courts will do it for them,” he said.

The state water board has said it did not believe Tuesday’s ruling would mandate expanded local regulation of groundwater.