YREKA, Calif. -- A tribe, a fishermen's
organization and two environmental
groups are siding with the California
Department of Fish and Game in a lawsuit
over water diversions here.
groups have intervened in the Siskiyou
County Farm Bureau's challenge of the
department 's authority to require
permits for landowners' simple
extractions from the Scott and Shasta
The groups -- the Karuk Tribe, the
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's
Associations, Klamath Riverkeeper and
Earthjustice -- assert the lawsuit's
outcome could impact the recovery of
depleted salmon populations in the
Klamath River and its tributaries.
"The court needs to hear that there
are more voices and more issues here
than simply farmers versus an agency,"
said Glen Spain, the PCFFA's northwest
regional director. "One of the issues is
the health of our rivers and the
fisheries that depend on those rivers.
"Fish and Game Code section 1602 set
some limits on how much water anyone can
take out of a river," he said. "No
farmer has the right to de-water a river
and put whole industries that depend on
the river downstream out of business."
A hearing on the intervention motion
is set for July 19 in Yreka.
The local Farm Bureau filed suit
March 25 in Siskiyou County Superior
Court, contending that Fish and Game is
violating Scott and Shasta valley
landowners' water and property rights by
requiring permits for irrigators.
The California Farm Bureau Federation
withdrew a similar case earlier this
year after failing to get it decoupled
from environmental groups' suit against
That suit -- which was filed by
Earthjustice, Klamath Riverkeeper and
others -- was resolved this spring as
San Francisco Superior Court Judge
Ernest Goldsmith invalidated the
department's watershed-wide permits in
the two valleys.
The Siskiyou Farm Bureau's attorney,
Darrin Mercier, could not immediately be
reached for comment on June 23. He said
in April that the earlier suit "had a
much broader net with multiple issues"
while this one is limited to Section
He said the later suit was filed
because the 2011 irrigation season was
near and members "were faced with
threats of enforcement and a lot of
uncertainty about their water rights."
"Some of these ranchers have been
diverting water for over 100 years," he
said then, adding that they've recently
seen a "fundamental change" in the way
the state interprets Section 1602, which
governs water diversions.
The PCFFA, the Karuk Tribe and others
take issue with the Farm Bureau's
argument that Section 1602 should only
apply when a river is physically
altered, not when water is extracted.
"They're trying to redefine what this
is all about," Craig Tucker, the Karuk
Tribe's Klamath coordinator, said on
June 23. He said the DFG has been
requiring permits for things such as
simple dams and pipes in a river "for 40
or 50 years."
"From our perspective, we think it's
important that we have agencies like
Fish and Game to make sure diversions
aren't detrimental to fish," he said.
Spain said that fishing businesses
downstream depend on the Klamath River
and its tributaries for their
"The Fish and Game code is designed
to help balance the users and the
interests between those users," he said.
"The idea that the code should be
knocked out entirely ... is not the way
to run any watershed."
Siskiyou County Farm Bureau:
Pacific Coast Federation of
Fishermen's Associations: http://www.pcffa.org/
Karuk Tribe: http://www.karuk.us/karuk2/index.php
Klamath Riverkeeper: http://www.klamathriver.org/
California Department of Fish and
Tribe, fishermen, conservationists join Siskiyou water lawsuit; say suit could endanger salmon
OAKLAND -- The Karuk Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources and Klamath Riverkeeper filed a motion Wednesday to intervene in a Siskiyou County court case challenging the authority of the California Department of Fish and Game to regulate water diversions for farmland irrigation.
The groups are concerned that the outcome of the lawsuit -- which focuses on the Shasta and Scott rivers in Siskiyou county -- could impact the recovery of depleted salmon populations across the state.
”These two key headwater tributaries of the Klamath River historically hosted healthy salmon runs that have steeply declined in recent years because of increased farm irrigation,” the release said. “Both rivers often run dry in summer months due to excessive water diversions.”
The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau filed its lawsuit on March 25, alleging that water diverters are not legally obligated to inform Fish and Game of their water diversions and that the agency has no authority to regulate these diversions.
”These guys think we're still living in the Old West,” Leaf Hillman, director of Natural Resources for the Karuk Tribe, said in the release. “In today's world, we have laws designed to balance the needs of agriculture with the needs of fishing communities. Like it or not, they have to share the water, air and earth with other people.”
According to the groups, the Farm Bureau's key argument is that the word 'divert' in Fish and Game code refers not to water diverted for irrigation, but to the physical diversion of the natural flow to a new water course. The Farm Bureau insists that landowners taking water from the rivers to water their hay fields are not 'diverting' but 'extracting' water and are therefore exempt from the law.
The groups called the interpretation “convoluted.”
Wendy Park, attorney for the public interest law firm Earthjustice, challenged the bureau's interpretation.
”Whatever they call it, this rampant dewatering of California streams is leaving threatened species such as coho salmon no chance of survival,” she said in the release. “Indeed, coho are now at the brink of extinction in the Scott and Shasta rivers because in the past, the state department of Fish and Game did very little to control diversions in these watersheds. Now that the coho are almost gone, Fish and Game needs every tool in its box to give them a shot at recovery.”
Earthjustice is representing the tribal, fishing and environmental groups in the Siskiyou County case.
For a copy of the Farm Bureau complaint and the Karuk et al motion to intervene, go to the website www.earthjustice.org/news