Environmental Law Foundation

Our Mission

We believe in protecting the environment, communities, and consumers against harmful toxics. Our work consistently improves environmental quality for those most at risk by providing access to information, strategies and enforcement of environmental, toxics, and community right-to-know laws.

Recent Events

Nitrate Pollution Impacting Drinking Water and Fisheries in the Central Coast

On October 27, 2023, rural Latino community and farmworker groups, environmental organizations, and commercial and recreational fishing organizations filed a lawsuit against state agencies’ September decision to strike down measures to control extensive nitrate pollution in the Central Coast region. ELF is representing San Jerardo Cooperative, Inc., Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance in the litigation. The groups contend that nitrates in runoff from chemical fertilizers and other sources contaminate thousands of families’ wells, and that by refusing to take steps to protect the region’s polluted rivers and streams, the State Water Resources Control Board has become part of this problem. The State Board’s decision has statewide policy and downstream impacts and represents the state government’s unwillingness to confront decades of pollution by the agricultural industry—despite rising nitrate contamination and the resulting lack of clean, safe, affordable drinking water for many communities.

Karuk Tribe, ELF, and PCFFA/IFR Petition to Make Scott River Streamflow Protection Permanent

On May 23, 2023, ELF filed a petition on behalf of itself, the Karuk Tribe of California, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources asking the State Water Resources Control Board to establish a permanent regulation protecting streamflows in the Scott River. The petition asked the State Board to move from emergency management of this crucial river to a long-term, sustainable approach that protects the public’s right to a healthy ecosystem in this culturally and economically vital river.

The State Board held a hearing on August 15, 2023. At the hearing, the Board directed staff to move forward with developing a permanent regulation protecting streamflows in the Scott River. In addition, the Board directed staff to expand the scope of the permanent streamflow regulation to include the Shasta River. It also directed staff to move quickly to reenact the emergency regulations that protected streamflows in the Scott and Shasta Rivers for the past two years and expired on July 31, 2023.

This direction marks a new era in management of these crucial rivers. Reenacting the emergency regulations will ensure that there is protection for streamflows going into 2024. And simultaneous work towards a permanent regulation will lay the groundwork for a solution that protects vital runs of Coho and Chinook salmon.

Karuk Tribe and ELF Petition for Scott River Flows

On July 1, 2021, ELF filed a petition on behalf of itself and the Karuk Tribe requesting that the California State Water Resources Control Board fulfill its duty under the public trust doctrine and exercise its authority under the Governor’s drought proclamation to set an emergency minimum flow standard for the Scott River. Low flows as a result of overextraction of water are driving salmon populations to extinction. Swift action by the State Board can protect this culturally and ecologically precious resource for the future.

On August 17, 2021 the State Board adopted Emergency Regulations for the Scott and Shasta Rivers. The Emergency Regulations went into effect on August 30, 2021. Curtailment orders have now been sent to diverters and pumpers in the Scott River basin.

The Emergency Regulations were readopted for 2022-23 in June 2022 and for 2024 in December 2023.

Agricultural Pollution Regulation in the Scott and Shasta Rivers

For decades, ranchers and growers have discharged warm and polluted tailwater and removed shade-providing vegetation along the Scott and Shasta Rivers. And the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has proposed to renew a regulatory program without any changes that has permitted ongoing failures to meet water quality standards. ELF, along with Friends of the Shasta River, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, and Save California Salmon, submitted comments opposing the renewal of this program on January 9, 2023.

Groundwater Wells in Siskiyou County

On June 21, 2022, in a momentous victory for North Coast fisheries and the people who rely on them, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted to begin the process of preparing an Environmental Impact Report for new agricultural wells across the County. This important step is the result of ELF’s decade-long advocacy for the County to acknowledge the harm that overextraction of groundwater has on the Scott, Shasta, and other key salmon-bearing rivers. While much remains to do, the County’s action paves the way for a new era of science-based, balanced management of the County’s water resources.

Dairy CAFO Pollution in the Central Valley

Industrial dairy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are one of the biggest sources of nitrate pollution in the Central Valley—pollution that leaves hundreds of thousands of Californians without safe drinking water. But state regulators have failed to set rules governing the newest and biggest of these facilities. On February 1, 2022, ELF took action to bring these facilities—all dairies expanded or established since 2005—into compliance with the law.

Transparency in Groundwater Pollution Data

On March 28, 2018, ELF filed suit against the California State Water Resources Control Board, asking the court to invalidate a general permit for agriculture in the Central Valley that permits growers to keep key water quality data secret. Nitrate emitted from irrigated agriculture contaminates drinking water wells throughout the state.

On January 10, 2022, ELF filed a petition with the State Water Resources Control Board challenging the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Groundwater Protection Values program approval. This program will be the basis for groundwater pollution targets, but it bases those targets on secret data, violating state law. ELF requested that the State Board overturn the approval.

Sustainable Groundwater Management in Siskiyou County

On May 10, 2021, ELF submitted comments on Siskiyou County’s proposed Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Scott Valley. ELF’s comments seek to ensure that the final plan, when adopted, addresses concerns over the plan’s analysis of undesirable results in stream flows, failure to set measurable objectives and minimum flow thresholds, and lack of consideration of impacts to surface water quality. The comments also urge Siskiyou County to take action to protect public trust resources in the Scott Valley.

Consumers’ Right to Know About Glyphosate

On February 19, 2021, ELF and the Natural Resources Defense Council, United Steelworkers, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, As You Sow, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Center for Food Safety, Clean Water Action, Pesticide Action Network North America, and San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a case brought by Monsanto and a consortium of agribusiness groups against Proposition 65, California’s safe drinking water and toxic chemical right-to-know law.

The brief urges the court to reject a rule that would allow Monsanto to use the First Amendment to avoid giving warnings about glyphosate, a probable carcinogen, by highlighting the robust scientific process agencies use to list dangerous chemicals.

Sustainable Groundwater Management in the San Joaquin Valley

ELF has joined with the Law Offices of Thomas N. Lippe to represent the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance in its lawsuit challenging the coordinated groundwater sustainability plan for the Delta-Mendota Subbasin in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Decades of groundwater mismanagement in the basin have led to overdraft, degraded water quality, and impacts to the San Joaquin River.

CSPA alleges that components of the coordinated plan, adopted by multiple groundwater sustainability agencies in the region, fail to achieve sustainable groundwater management for the basin as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. CSPA filed its complaint in the action in March 2020, seeking to declare the plan and its adoption by the agencies invalid.

In 2022, the Department of Water Resources determined that the GSPs at issue were “incomplete” and directed the defendants to revise their GSPs. CSPA filed comment letters with DWR concluding that even the revised GSPs failed to comply with SGMA.

In January 2023, the Merced Superior Court denied a motion to dismiss from certain defendants, ruling that the revisions to the plan did not make CSPA’s claims moot.

Groundwater in California

ELF joined the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources in filing a lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board and Siskiyou County, alleging violations of the public trust doctrine, which protects the state’s navigable waters from harm.

In August 2018, the California Court of Appeal ruled that even after the enactment of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, these governmental entities are under an obligation to consider the possible negative effects of groundwater pumping on nearby navigable rivers.

Siskiyou County sought review at the California Supreme Court, but review was denied on November 28, 2018. The Court of Appeal’s decision is now definitive law in California.