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The Pioneer Press, at the very top of the State of California, grants permission for this article from the State of Jefferson Rancher to be copied and forwarded.

State of Jefferson Rancher, Fort Jones, California Wednesday, February 23, 2005 Page 6, column 1
SOSS explains water issues

-- On Feb. 24, SOSS leaders brought the public up-to-date.

By Liz Bowen, editor, State of Jefferson Rancher, Fort Jones, California

YREKA, CALIFORNIA SOSS, the Save Our Shasta and Scott Valleys and Towns coalition, took the lead on the coho salmon issue four years ago, initiating discussions and a Recovery Strategy Plan.

"Throughout the coho listing process, we have covered our bases, kept options open and made sure we are in a strong legal position. We want the membership to know where we stand," President Dave Dealey told the State of Jefferson Rancher.

During the past year, SOSS leaders have expanded its focus to include other threats against agriculture water use.

Fees for an attorney used much of the funds raised by SOSS, during the last three years just on the coho listing process at the state level. SOSS also held a meeting in the summer of 2004 with Pacific Legal Foundation and discussed litigation at length, but that meeting was a no-charge.

In one respect, the Feb. 24, 2005 meeting was a report card. In another respect, several presenters shared information regarding the major threats against agriculture water and agriculture practices in Siskiyou County.

Originally, SOSS mobilized farmers, ranchers and businesses in both Shasta and Scott Valleys to stop the listing of the coho salmon to the state Endangered Species Act (ESA).

"We have established a positive position and we are known throughout the state and at the federal levels," said Ernie Wilkinson, SOSS vice-chairman, from Scott Valley.

Unfortunately, Green enviro politics played hard and heavy in Sacramento, and the coho was listed with the California ESA August 2004, but not without a two-year battle.

Yet the coho issue still remains hot, because the listing of the coho to the federal ESA has been ruled illegal by a federal judge; not once but twice this winter. There are groups looking into the same type of lawsuit at the state level. SOSS provided data on coho from 2000 through 2004 and it was not used by the California Department of Fish and Game, when the department encouraged the California Fish and Game Commission to list the coho.

SOSS believes that correct data was not used in the ESA listing decision; and that unbiased science was not utilized during the decision-making process.

During the Feb. 24 meeting, a panel of several speakers shared the stage providing information to those who utilize water for farms and ranches in Siskiyou County.

Coho salmon status and "take" permit

The coho issue and the many court decisions made recently has heightened concerns for local farmers and ranchers. Don Howell, who led SOSS for three years as chairman of the science committee, spoke on the coho issues.

In tandem with the coho is the Incidental Take Permit, which SOSS leaders, local Resource Conservation Districts (RCD), county officials and California Department of Fish and Game employees have been working on to provide protection for basic agricultural practices, and from fines, if a juvenile coho is found dead in an irrigation system.

Fines of up to $20,000 could be levied for the "take" or killing of an animal listed with Endangered Species Acts.

Local farmers and ranchers have been working with the Resource Conservation Districts to improve habitat and provide fish screens in ditches and other diversions, so the juveniles will not swim into irrigation systems.

Signing on to the Incidental Take Permit will be voluntary, so farmers and ranchers need to know what is being offered.

Bill Krum discussed the Scott Valley permit and Dave Webb addressed the status of the Shasta Valley permit. Attorneys involved in reviewing the Incidental Take Permit application said they were impressed with the work the RCDs had done.

"They felt we were very creative in the approach we had taken," said Krum.

Federal CIP committee

Marcia Armstrong, county supervisor for District 5, presented the newest information regarding the Conservation Implementation Plan, or CIP, which is being pushed by the Klamath Bureau of Reclamation. The CIP will be a broad-based committee from the ocean to the upper reaches of the Klamath River. The committee will address and may affect flows in tributaries and the Klamath River.

But the original design of the committee came under fire by nearly everyone considered to be involved, because it was difficult for local groups to participate and be heard. The design was top-heavy with federal government agencies making the decision. Armstrong and others suggested a different strategy in designing a committee, which would give grassroots groups, counties and RCDs equal leverage.

Water master fee increase

Then there is the water master fee issue. The state increased the fees for water master service last year and included administrative costs from the state office in Sacramento.

In 2004, the total assessment for Siskiyou County was $84,860. But, because of a deficit California State budget and other government claims, the 2005 assessment fee jumped to $377,000.

-- The Scott River assessment was increased from $22,600 to $129,000 for water master service.

-- The Shasta River assessment went from $62,160 to $247,900.

Through discussions and pressure applied by SOSS, Siskiyou County Administrator, Howard Moody, the Farm Bureau, Cattlemen Associations, there has been a one-year reprieve. Bill Bennett, a state-level official with the California Department of Water Resources was able to obtain funds from the Klamath Bureau of Reclamation to off-set a major portion of the increase in cost.

But there will be no reprieve a second time from the state.

A committee has been meeting to discuss alternatives. Blair Smith from Shasta Valley and Moody spoke on the recent developments, which includes alternatives of leaving the state water master service and establishing a private service.

 

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