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Jasper Ridge Sued For Allegedly Endangering Trout

Publication Date: 
April 01, 2014
The Stanford Daily
Kylie Jue

Professor Deborah Sivas weighs in why she doesn't believe a lawsuit filed against the National Marine Fisheries Services claiming it allowed Stanford University to enganger the steelhead trout will make it to trial. 

After a Feb. 28 court-ordered inspection of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, two environmental groups filed a lawsuit on Mar. 11 against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for allegedly allowing Stanford University to endanger steelhead trout.

The lawsuit refers to two of Stanford’s water diversions downstream of the Searsville Dam that provide irrigation for a golf course and other campus landscaping. Our Children’s Earth Foundation and the Ecological Rights Foundation had previously sued Stanford in Jan. 2013, in a lawsuit that is currently in the discovery phase. Both foundations are part of a network of Northern California environmental groups.


Professor of Environmental Law and Director of the Environmental Law Clinic Deborah Sivas J.D. ’87, who represented the organization Spawn in a similar litigation against Marin County, shared her perspective on the Searsville Dam case.

“If the plaintiffs were successful and the court found that they were correct, the court would typically order [Stanford] to go seek a permit,” Sivas said. “It gets a little tricky; it goes back to the agency to determine if a permit was appropriate. The agency would then have to determine if the species is truly endangered.”

Sivas believed it would be unlikely for Stanford to be required to tear down Searsville Dam. She explained that foothill erosion has created a new marsh-like ecosystem due to the buildup of silt at the base of the dam. Removing it would negatively affect Jasper Ridge wildlife, she said.

“The NMFS typically wouldn’t make anyone take down the dam,” Sivas said. “More likely the NMFS would make Stanford cut back on water to be taken out of the dam or figure out a way to allow fish to move beyond the dam.”

Sivas predicted that the parties will settle and that the case is not likely to go to trial.

“Courts have not been that receptive to these cases,” Sivas said. “Some have been able to win, but I don’t know [the organizations’] evidence on harm to the species…I suspect this case will not go to trial, but I suspect there will be a potential settlement.”