Earlier this year a Siskiyou County Superior Court judge dialed back the state Department of Fish and Game.
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DFG is now called the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Whatever the department is called, it wanted to be called irrigation regulator also, and that the judge wouldn’t allow.
Apparently the fish and game people tried to get farmers and ranchers along the Scott and Shasta rivers to get a “streambed alteration” permit before irrigating their fields.
However, Judge Karen L. Dixon ruled that the Legislature “did not intend to include the act of diverting water to a water right to be within the regulatory scope of Section 1602,” which requires permits to alter a lake or stream bed.
Those “alterations” have previously only applied to gravel mining, push-up dams and replacing infrastructure.
Exercising one’s water rights through pumping or through headgates is not a stream alteration and water rights are strictly the purview of the state Water Resources Control Board, the judge reaffirmed.
The ruling in Siskiyou “establishes an important statewide precedent,” said Siskiyou County Farm Bureau President Jeff Fowle. “There is no doubt that if the department had been able to expand its authority here, it would have tried to regulate water rights elsewhere in the state.”
Still the farmers and ranchers, having reined in the Department of Fish and Wildlife, were magnanimous in victory: “Farmers will continue to work collaboratively with the agency to improve conditions for fish,” said Rex Houghton, immediate past president of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau.
We can all thank the Siskiyou ranchers for preventing a power grab by the DFW.