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Feds taking irrigation water for fish
Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong District 5, 9/14/07

It has always been understood on some level that the state and federal agencies really wanted to take water currently used for irrigation and livestock watering and allocate it to salmon and steelhead fish production. We have seen wave after wave of endangered species and water quality regulations. Many have been designed to shoe horn in another small water allocation for fish ahead of long-standing vested pre-1914 agricultural water rights without paying just compensation for a property taking.

When I served on the federal Klamath River Fisheries Task Force, it became clear to me that the driving force behind the tribes and fishermen was economic. The goal was to increase the production of Chinook salmon to harvest for commercial purposes. The underlying strategy was to redirect the economic use of water from agriculture in Siskiyou County to commercial fish production for the benefit of tribes and fishermen.

The agricultural community of Siskiyou County has worked hard to survive the stream of regulatory level 5 hurricanes that have hit our shores. The Resource Advisory Councils (RCDs) are now in the process of finalizing a programmatic state Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for coho and a watershed-wide 1602 streambed alteration/diversion permit. Each of these will redirect water from agriculture to fish. In addition, the Water Quality Control Board is imposing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDLs) limitations on activities that impact fish. In Scott Valley, the eye is on controlling and limiting groundwater use. In the Shasta Valley, the objective is to take 45 cubic ft./sec. of water used by agriculture and reallocate it to instream fish production. We have not yet seen the further demands on agriculture from the final riparian and other regulatory policies being developed by this Board.    

Recently, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) came before the Board of Supervisors to present yet one more of the shoe-horn maneuvers to take water from agriculture. This one revolves around Section 5937 of the Fish and Game code which states:  “The owner of any dam shall allow sufficient water at all times to pass through a fishway, or in the absence of a fishway, allow sufficient water to pass over, around or through the dam, to keep in good condition any fish that maybe planted or exist below the dam.”

This is not a new regulation. In the past, there has been at least one clash over section 5937 on the Scott River. The mainstem river historically goes subsurface at some point in the summer. At that time, the CDFG traps fish stranded in the isolated pools for re-release. In this case, diversion ditch users were cited for leaving insufficient water in the stream to keep fish pooled up below the dam in good condition during a long holiday weekend when the CDFG did not come to trap them.

Current plans are to establish what “good condition” means. The CDFG is giving CalTrout – not a friend of agriculture, grant money to do a “flow study” on the Shasta River to “develop the relationship between flow and habitat availability for the different life stages of coho.” They will start on a small scale with CDFG, Bureau of Land management and Nature Conservancy lands on the Shasta.  Within five years, ultimate plans to do the studies on both the Shasta and the Scott on a watershed wide basis. We now have the meaning of  “good condition” going from “alive” to commanding stream flow for maximized fish habitat. This is another way of saying they are about to subordinate more ag water use rights and allocate them to fish production without paying for them.

The DFG is using the terms “pilot strategy,” “in cooperation with the community” and “broad-based technical advisory committee” to make it sound like this evolved from our local processes.  I can tell you, there is no buy in by the Board of Supervisors on this. There was no cooperation with the community. This was sprung upon us completely out of the blue, born purely of a partnership between the CDFG and fishing/environmental groups. It is a complete slap in the face to the people of Siskiyou County.

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