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Judge issues final ruling on Scott, Shasta river valleys
by TIM HEARDEN, Capital Press April 25, 2011
YREKA, Calif. - A judge has finalized his earlier interim decision invalidating California Department of Fish and Game-issued permits to irrigators in two rural Northern California valleys.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith last week reiterated his opinion that the DFG's special permit program for water diversions wasn't set up according to state environmental laws.
The decision upholds a preliminary ruling by Goldsmith in February that effectively suspended the controversial permitting program, which had drawn fire from both conservationists and irrigators. The judge sided with environmentalists who argued the permits violated state laws.
"The judge has essentially remanded it back to the agency to do it right and fix it, and they can do that," said Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
In his latest ruling, Goldsmith again acknowledged Fish and Game's "good faith efforts" to strike a middle ground with landowners but noted the Legislature's "mandate to preserve listed species" such as threatened coho salmon.
The ruling came despite the DFG's assertion that it would be virtually impossible to fully enforce illegal takings of fish and that the blanket permits provided a way to protect the imperiled salmon as required under the state Endangered Species Act.
Neil Manji, the agency's regional director in Redding, Calif., said after the judge's preliminary ruling that Fish and Game officials will consider whether there's a way to offer some sort of streamlined permitting program that will pass legal muster.
The Goldsmith rulings do not affect the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau's separate lawsuit claiming the DFG is violating landowners' water rights in the two valleys by requiring permits for simple diversions.
That suit asks the Siskiyou County Superior Court to prevent the state agency from enforcing its "new" interpretation of Fish and Game Code Section 1602, which the agency has argued requires landowners to obtain streambed alteration and incidental take permits for their diversions.


Court finds California salmon protections wanting

By JEFF BARNARD Mercury News 4/25/11
GRANTS PASS, Ore.—A judge has ruled that the California Department of Fish and Game's deal allowing ranchers to continue drawing water from two Klamath Basin tributaries in return for habitat improvements does not do enough to protect threatened coho salmon.

The ruling from Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith of the Superior Court of California in San Francisco tells the department to figure out how many salmon are actually killed by water withdrawals from the Scott and Shasta rivers in Northern California, come up with some effective steps to improve salmon survival in those rivers, and give the public a chance to comment on it all.

"Despite (the department's) good faith efforts and potential hardship to water users, the Court must uphold the legislature's mandate to preserve listed species and conduct environmental review of all foreseeable consequences," Goldsmith wrote.

The department is reviewing the ruling and considering its options for moving forward, said spokeswoman Jordan Traverso.

The ruling issued April 20 came in a lawsuit brought by groups representing salmon fishermen, an Indian tribe, and conservation groups challenging the legality of the Shasta Valley and Scott River Watershed-Wide Permitting Programs. The department approved the programs in 2010 to bring about 100 farms and ranches into compliance with the state Endangered Species Act in an area that had seen fierce pockets of resistance.

"This ruling does not put water back in the river or fish back in the river," said Klamath Riverkeeper Erica Terence, one of the plaintiffs in the cases. "It just keeps at bay a program that quite possibly would have done more harm than good."

Federal threatened species protection for Klamath Basin coho led to the shut-off of irrigation water to more than 1,000 farms and ranches on a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border in 2002, but did not affect irrigation on private lands in the Scott and Shasta valleys. California protected coho in 2005.

Historically, the Scott and Shasta rivers offered important habitat for coho salmon in the Klamath Basin, but have seen numbers falling to dangerously low levels in recent years. Last year the Scott—which regularly runs dry from irrigation withdrawals, requiring thousands of young fish to be rescued—saw only 881 adult coho return, according to the department. The Shasta saw only 49. Two out of three years, no fish return to the Shasta.


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