For scale, a person stands next to a pile of snow
at Etna Summit on April 1. The snowpack will feed into the Scott
Valley as it melts.
Courtesy of Theodora Johnson/Sco
Farmers and ranchers in the rural
Scott Valley of Northern California have asked water
officials to rescind drought regulations in light of the
state’s recent heavy snowfall.
At a State Water Resources Control
Board public meeting on April 4, farmers in the valley urged
officials to drop an emergency drought regulation that the
board put in place last year, saying it is no longer
necessary after this winter’s large snowpack.
“We believe that we have been
regulated in an unprecedented and unfair manner, and now
that we’ve had a very decent winter, that unfair treatment
is looking more and more like abuse,” Theodora Johnson, a
local farmer and spokeswoman for the Scott Valley Water
Alliance, told board officials at the meeting.
The Scott River Watershed is not
served by reservoirs or federal and state water projects.
Instead, farmers rely on groundwater accessed through wells
and surface water from the Scott River, a tributary of the
Last summer, the State Water Resources
Control Board issued emergency drought regulations for the
Scott River that would halt all irrigation if the river
dipped below new minimum levels. The regulation’s purpose
was to protect coho salmon.
In the summer, under the new
regulations, officials curtailed farmers’ water use.
On Dec. 27, the board temporarily
suspended all curtailments in the Scott River Watershed due
to snow and rainfall.
The board, however, left its emergency
regulations in place, meaning farmers in the Scott Valley
still operate under an emergency drought framework.
“The emergency regulations last for
one year (through July 29). While curtailments have been
suspended, keeping the emergency regulations in place allows
the board to re-issue curtailments during that time period
if needed…,” said Ailene Voisin, spokeswoman for the water
For example, she said, if the snowpack
does not adequately replenish the Klamath River Basin, the
board may need to re-issue curtailments. Keeping the
emergency drought regulations in place, said Voisin, gives
the board the legal authority to curtail farmers’ water
supplies if necessary.
After the emergency regulation
expires, the board can decide whether to readopt it.
Farmers in the valley disagree with
the board’s decision to keep the emergency regulation in
place, considering the wet winter.
“Our snowpack surveys so far are
reading over 150%, yet we are still being required to reduce
our groundwater use for the upcoming irrigation season by
30% to avoid 100% curtailment,” said Johnson, the farmer
with the Scott Valley Water Alliance.
In response, officials say snowpack
levels in Northern California are not as dramatic as those
in Southern California, and therefore drought could still be
a problem for the northern region this year.
“Southern California is experiencing
historic snowpack levels, but while the snowpack is
excellent in NorCal, the levels are not historic,” said
Voisin, of the water board.
Farmers remain frustrated with the
“Water board, you are in a position of
power. Please choose your decision so that it reflects
giving water to everyone,” Lauren Sweezy, a hay farmer in
the Scott Valley, said to officials at the public meeting in
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