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National Audubon Society v. Superior Court

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. 22 Ill.33 Cal.3d 419, 189 Cal.Rptr. 346, 658 P.2d 709, 21 ERC 1490 (1983)

Brief Fact Summary. The litigation in this case stems from the diversion of streams previously flowing into Mono Lake by the Department of Water and Power for the City of Los Angeles. Four of the five streams, which flow into Mono Lake were diverted and the lake is diminished in size and has been impacted ecologically.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The state has an affirmative duty to take into account the public trust in the planning and allocation of water resources, and to protect the public trust use whenever feasible.

Facts. Mono Lake is a saline lake that contains no fish but supports a large number of brine shrimp that feed vast numbers of nesting and migrating birds. The lake receives some of its water from rain and snow on the lake surface, but is mostly fed by water flowing from five streams: Mill, Lee Vining, Walker, Parker, and Rush creeks. These creeks are fed by snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada mountains. In 1940, the Division of Water Resources, predecessor to the California Water Resources Board, granted to the Department of Water and Power for the City of Los Angeles (DWP) a permit to appropriate the entire flow of four out of the five streams flowing into the lake. DWP constructed the facilities to divert the flow of the streams into the Owens Valley aqueduct. In 1970, DWP constructed another diversion tunnel, which handled nearly the entire flow of the streams. As the result of the diversions the level of the lake has dropped and the surface area has diminished by one-third. One of th
e two principal islands of the lake has been turned into a peninsula, which allows predators to get access to the birds. The scenic and ecological value of the lake has been impaired. Plaintiffs filed suit to enjoin the DWP diversions on the theory that the lake is protected by a public trust.

Issue. Is the lake subject to a public trust which invalidates Los Angeles’ use of the streams feeding the lake?

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