National Audubon Society v. Superior Court


The LA Department of Public Works diverted four streams that fed into Mono Lake.  These streams were fed from the Sierra Nevadas.  The National Audubon Society claimed that the diversion of these streams damaged the Lake’s environment such that the lost water drained the lake to the extent that an Island which harbored bird populations became a peninsula.  When it was an island it allowed for a safe area for bird populations that stayed away from predators.  Many of these bird populations were endangered, but because of the new “peninsula” they became subject to predators and therefore were at risk.  The National Audubon Society invoked the public trust doctrine at trial.


Whether the public trust doctrine supersedes the appropriative right doctrine when the two are in conflict and when the waterway at issue is non-navigable.


Yes, a legislative study of the issue is ordered.  When the public interest in non-navigable waters is harmed by the appropriative right doctrine, the public trust may be strong enough to override.  The National Audubon Society argued that the public interest was the scenic nature and wildlife population protection of the lake.  However, the court recognized that the waterways were essential resources to the population of LA.  They maintained that when the two doctrines conflict, the solution should seek to minimize both the harm to the public trust and the restriction on public resources.

Therefore, the court ordered further study of the issue so that a reasonable conclusion can be made as to reasonable use of the water versus environmental protection. The study would examine the extent of the damage to mono lake for further consideration of the issue.

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