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Fairgrounds overflows with water rights activists
By Mike Slizewski GateHouse News Service August 30, 2010
Mike Slizewski  Protect Our Water – Scott Valley (POW) Vice Chairman Mark Bair prepares to speak to the overflow crowd at Winema Hall Saturday evening during a water rally sponsored by his organization. Directly behind him is POW Chairman Craig Chenowith. Baird is shown wearing a holster that holds a copy of the U.S. Constitution rather than a gun.
Yreka, Calif. — More than 500 people filled Winema Hall on the Siskiyou Golden Fairgrounds Saturday evening to show support for Protect Our Water – Scott Valley’s efforts to combat what its membership believes to be an unconstitutional attempt to control water in the valley, use of which has traditionally been a legally adjudicated right of property owners.

A number of attendees were seen wearing a copy of the U.S. Constitution in their otherwise empty holsters; organizers claim the officially unsanctioned action was meant as a symbol that concerned citizens were ready to protect their   constitutional rights, which they believe are being violated in this issue.

Protect Our Water (POW) Chairman Craig Chenowith gave a brief history of the local movement:

“Two years ago, I was asked (by the California Department of Fish and Game) to sign the ITP (Incidental Take Permit), and I didn’t know what it was they wanted me to sign,” he told the crowd.

More research revealed to Chenowith that the DF&G “wants to regulate our adjudicated water rights.”

The chairman said DF&G “finally released a 700-page document ... (that was) open-ended, vague and discriminatory.”

After consulting with an attorney and various interested groups and individuals, “I invited people into my living room three and a half months ago (to form POW – Scott Valley), and look where we are today,” Chenowith said, sweeping his arm across a room that was filled to overflowing. Some attendees were actually listening from outside the open doors to the hall.

“Fish and Game has come onto our properties to threaten us into signing the ITP so we could get our (Calif. Section) 1600 permits, so that we could open our headgates,”
Chenowith said.

A number of Scott Valley residents, all of whom have traditionally been able to open those headgates, releasing water for agricultural use, would fall under the control of the DF&G, facing penalties up to an estimated $25,000 if they don’t comply with the new regulations, which would make opening of headgates without a permit and permission (particularly in low water years, when the DF&G could conceivably keep the headgates closed in order to protect coho salmon spawning grounds in rivers and creeks that pass through or near Scott Valley) a violation of the new regulations.

Chenowith told those present that the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau “is suing Fish and Game over the 1600 agreement” and that he is optimistic for the outcome of that lawsuit.
POW Vice Chairman Mark Baird, like Chenowith a Scott Valley rancher, was present at that first POW meeting at Chenowith’s home three and a half months ago, and he, too, stated he was ready to exhaust all avenues in the fight against what he termed an unconstitutional take of valley water by the government.

“Fish and Game is involved in an unprecedented take of our rights, our water and our property in Siskiyou County,” Baird told the crowd, “and if it succeeds here, they’ll use it in all of California.

“They are doing this under the pretense of saving fish,” Baird continued. “Well, we have documented proof that the DF&G has been killing fish.

“And we believe the RCD (local Resource Conservation District) is participating willingly – if they’re not, then they’re not reading their mail.

“We figured out that Fish and Game wants you to voluntarily sign that (ITP) contract ... but if you sign this contract, you are voluntarily giving your water right to the California Department of Fish and Game.”

Baird asked the crowd if anyone knew why Siskiyou County has been chosen as “the poster child” (i.e., the test case) on this issue.

“Now I don’t mean to insult anyone here,” he said, “but one reason they picked Siskiyou County is that they think we’re weak and stupid.”

He said that Siskiyou County is a large area but sparsely populated, pointing out that this county has one state assemblyman (Jim Nielsen, who was present Saturday evening) that it shares with other counties, while a city like Santa Monica has 14 to itself.

“When  a peace officer or government agent tells you, ‘If you sign this contract, we probably won’t violate you (for breaking the law),’” Baird explained, “that is the very definition of extortion (which is against the law) – even (if they do so) by mail, and if it’s by U.S. Mail, that makes it (extortion in violation of) federal law.”

The crowd heard from other water and property rights speakers as well, including author Holly Swanson of White City, Ore., whose book, “Set Up and Sold Out: Find Out What Green Really Means” was on sale at the event.

According to www.pointofview.net , Swanson “ ... is a prominent figure in property rights circles ... she is credited with documenting and exposing the plan to use public education to politically indoctrinate America’s children. ... Holly is the director of the Operation Green Out! campaign and known for her work to get green politics out of America’s schools.”

More coverage of Saturday evening’s event will appear in Tuesday’s Scott Valley View.
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