TRIAL IN SISKIYOU COUNTY FARM BUREAU WATER RIGHTS SUIT RESUMES MAY 29
Trial is scheduled to resume May 29 in a lawsuit filed by Siskiyou County Farm Bureau to challenge the California Department of Fish and Game’s new interpretation of a 51-year-old law. The first week of trial included testimony from farmers and ranchers who said DFG actions threaten farmers’ ability to provide water to their crops.
The case centers on a new DFG interpretation of Section 1602 of the California Fish and Game Code. This section requires individuals to notify and potentially obtain a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement from DFG before conducting certain activities that alter a streambed. Since Section 1602 became law in 1961, DFG has required such permits for activities including gravel mining, the annual construction of push-up dams, installation of new headgates and other construction projects that physically alter streambeds.
But in 2010, DFG began enforcing a fundamental change in how the statute was applied, when it informed farmers in the Scott and Shasta river watersheds that they would be required to obtain streambed alteration agreements simply to exercise their longstanding water rights by opening an existing headgate or activating an existing pump in order to irrigate their crops. Water rights are already managed by the courts and a separate state agency, the State Water Resources Control Board. This new interpretation would require water users to obtain a permit from DFG to exercise existing water rights.
Siskiyou County Farm Bureau members Jim Morris, Jeff Fowle and Joe Hurlimann testified during the first week of trial, describing the impacts the new layer of requirements would have on their ability to irrigate their crops.
“It was important for our farmers and ranchers to provide real-world examples of how the new interpretation is affecting them,” Siskiyou County Farm Bureau President Rex Houghton said. “The new requirements jeopardize both water rights and property rights for farmers and ranchers, creating a situation with a constant threat of enforcement action, additional burdensome fees and the time and expense of obtaining the annual permits.”
Houghton noted that farmers and ranchers along the two rivers have taken a number of voluntary actions to benefit salmon, and said DFG already has many other ways to assure protection of the fish.
The majority of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau case was presented to the judge during the first week of trial. Siskiyou County Farm Bureau will finish its case and DFG will present its case following the current recess in the trial.
“The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau would like to thank the local farmers and ranchers, as well as county Farm Bureaus throughout the state for their support,” Houghton said. “
In support of the action taken by Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, a number of local organizations, in addition to individual ranchers and farmers, have come forward with donations.
Jim Wilson, a representative of Save Our Scott and Shasta (S0SS), sent $7000 and a statement to the Farm Bureau: “Due to inactivity (by this organization) in the ongoing fight for water rights, we propose that SOSS cease its current operations and transfer the remaining funds in our treasury to the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, to assist in the lawsuit challenging the California Fish and Game’s new interpretation of 1602 permits. We feel the lawsuit is consistent with SOSS’s original mission statement.”
Gail Jenner, President of Siskiyou County CattleWomen, presented Rex Houghton with a $5000 donation. “We are committed to assisting our local Farm Bureau in this fight, which is a fight to preserve our adjudicated water rights. Though SCCW’s primary purpose is to provide scholarships and promote beef, without the right to use water as approved and provided for by the court, there is no agriculture. Little do most consumers realize that the backbone of this country, which is agriculture, is cracking under the weight of over-reaching regulations, increased fees and delays, and intimidation by state and federal agencies, in addition to rising costs and expenses.”
Jenner added, “We hope anyone who cares about agriculture or protecting individual rights will step forward. Our government has already imposed regulations and permitting processes aplenty.”
According to Cliff Munson, Siskiyou County Cattlemen’s President, “Siskiyou County Cattlemen applaud the efforts put forth by the Farm Bureau and the other organizations in Siskiyou County that wholeheartedly support the Farm Bureau lawsuit. Our legislature passes bills, and three or four individuals create a set of regulations, and those regulations are then interpreted by whoever is in charge of our various state agencies. We have reached a point where regulation and interpretation is destroying our way of life.” The cattlemen have also made a $5000 donation.
Munson continued, “We had a revolution in this country, which was settled in 1776, but when people start going hungry because of the lack of food, we will probably have another. It is great to see the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, the Protect Our Water Organization, Save our Scott and Shasta, the Siskiyou County CattleWomen, and the Cattlemen all join together to help this cause. ”
Mark Baird, of Protect Our Water (POW), also joined in with a donation. “POW supports the Farm Bureau wholeheartedly. We will stand with you ‘til the bitter end. Water rights are integral to agriculture and many of these rights go back more than a hundred years. That the government can step in and impose its own authority when these rights have been adjudicated by the court, is outrageous. It’s time we take a real stand. Enough is enough.”
Mario Burch, 2nd Vice President for Siskiyou County Farm Bureau said. “This is a regulation we must defeat and a case we must win. It’s good to see the various groups unified in support of, and with us in our fight against misused government regulation.”
“Siskiyou County Farm Bureau thanks each of the donors for their contributions,” Houghton said . “We look forward to getting back into the courtroom for the conclusion of the trial and the judge’s ruling on the new interpretation of Section 1602.”
The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau is a voluntary membership organization that works to protect and promote agricultural interests through Siskiyou County and to protect and improve the availability of food and fiber through responsible stewardship of resources.
Courtesy Jodi Burch, Executive Director, Siskiyou County Farm Bureau