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Winter 2009

New Regulations Threaten Farm Water

The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) and the Shasta Valley Resource Conservation District (SVRCD) are proposing that all agricultural water diverters within the Shasta River and Scotts Valley watersheds get a Streambed Alteration Agreement (SAA) and Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to continue their routine agricultural activities complying with Fish and Game Code, §1600 et seq., and the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The recent Environmental Impact Reports (Report) for each watershed have been put out for comment by CDFG and the SVRCD.

The code states, “an entity may not substantially divert or obstruct the natural flow of, any river, stream, or lake” unless a Streambed Alteration Agreement is issued. “Under the CESA, a person may not take an endangered or threaten species unless the take is incidental to an otherwise lawful activity” and the person must get an ITP.

Fish and Game Code, § 1600 et., which is being used to mandate the aforementioned permits, has only recently been interpreted to apply to agricultural diversions. The code was signed into law in the early 1960’s, but the past decade CDFG has reinterpreted the regulation and enforced strict penalties for those that do not comply with the code.

The proposed regulation assumes that agricultural water diversions “take” fish and substantially divert or obstruct the flow of water. “Take” means to hunt, pursue, capture, kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill. Without entrainment monitoring being done at each diversion the assumption is only a hypothesis, not backed with any scientific data. Numerous variables such as the diversions geographic location within the watershed, size and orientation of the intake, and pumping capacity all affect the entrainment of fish.

The proposed regulation would only impact “agricultural operators” within the watersheds. While the majority of the diversions may be used for agriculture, unilaterally applying a regulation to one user of Mt. Shasta, Northern California.water unfairly targets the agricultural industry, while excluding urban and environmental water users, which account for 60 percent of the water used within our state. Farmers and ranchers use of water has not changed in nearly seventy years, within the watersheds, and the decline of fish species has only occurred in the recent decades. The Report fails to address the correlation between the agricultural diversions in the watersheds and the decline in fish species, specifically the Coho salmon.

Furthermore, this proposed program could eventually impact other watersheds throughout the state. If the program was implemented farther down in the valley, over four thousand diversions would have to comply with this regulation. Unlike the Scotts Valley and Shasta River diversions, which are already equipped with fish screens, the Sacramento River/Delta and tributaries has thousands of unscreened diversions. To comply with this regulation the diverter must have a fish screen, which is very costly for family farmers and ranchers.

The Report states that “increased costs for agricultural operators could result in reduced income for the agricultural operations”. The report fails to address the economic impact on the county and community services districts if farmers and ranchers can no longer operate because it is no longer economically viable.

In conclusion, this regulation is not only economically burdensome, but unfounded. There has to be more than an assumption to require an excessive regulation on only one type of water user. ■

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