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Siskiyou County water suit to be decided by judge

by TIM HEARDEN, Capital Press May 29, 2012

YREKA, Calif. - The trial to determine the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau's water suit against the California Department of Fish and Game is expected to wrap up this week, but a decision may not come soon.

The group filed suit after the state said landowners need permits for simple water diversions.

The trial resumed May 29 after Superior Court Judge Karen Dixon heard testimony May 8-11 from farmers over the disputed Fish and Game Code Section 1602 dealing with water diversions before setting a recess.

Farm Bureau attorney Darrin Mercier said he planned to call several more witnesses before yielding to California Attorney General Kamala Harris' office, which is defending the lawsuit for Fish and Game.

"I think it was a great chance for the farmers and ranchers of Siskiyou County to be able to tell their story to the court about how this change in a 50-year-old law truly affects their operations," Mercier said.

Harris' office did not respond to a message seeking comment about the trial.

It may be autumn before the litigants learn the outcome of the case. The two sides will file closing briefs and reply briefs and the court will have 90 days to make a decision once the briefs are filed, Mercier said. No closing oral arguments will be made, he said.

The suit asks the court to prevent the DFG from enforcing what the Farm Bureau calls its "new" interpretation of Section 1602, which the agency has argued requires landowners to obtain expensive permits for simple diversions.

The suit asserts that farmers need declaratory relief or they could face misdemeanor charges and civil and criminal penalties of more than $25,000 per violation.

The suit was filed as San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith was set to invalidate a much cheaper watershed-wide permit the DFG offered to landowners in the Scott and Shasta valleys in 2010. Goldsmith ruled the agency didn't prepare the permits in accordance with environmental laws.

The trial in the Siskiyou Farm Bureau suit was scheduled to begin May 1, but Dixon agreed to delay it a week after the state introduced more documents. During a hearing on pretrial motions April 30, Dixon also ruled that Mercier could enter evidence about how DFG's interpretation of the Fish and Game Code is affecting water users.

During testimony, a trio of farmers said the DFG's actions would add a new layer of requirements they'd have to meet to irrigate their crops, and a legislative history expert told the court the section in question had more to do with lake and stream alterations than water use, Mercier said.

The Siskiyou Farm Bureau has received several donations to help meet its legal costs, including $7,000 from the group Save Our Scott and Shasta and $5,000 from the Siskiyou County CattleWomen, according to a news release.


Siskiyou County Farm Bureau: www.siskiyoucountyfarmbureau.com

California Department of Fish and Game: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/





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