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Winter 2013

Victory for Water Rights

It was just the Christmas present that farmers and ranchers in Siskiyou County needed, on Christmas Eve Judge Karen Dixon ruled that the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) overstepped its authority when enforcing Section 1602 of the Fish and Game code. 

The case centered on Section 1602 of the Fish and Game Code, which requires individuals to notify DFG and potentially obtain a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement before conducting certain activities that alter a streambed. Permits have been required under the section for gravel mining, construction of push-up dams and other projects that physically alter streambeds but, DFG began notifying landowners along the Scott and Shasta that they would need to obtain permits simply to open an existing headgate or activate an existing pump in order to irrigate their crops.

 “Farmers will continue to work collaboratively with the agency to improve conditions for fish. The outcome does not change the notification requirement for activity that physically alters a streambed, but it is important to establish that DFG can’t require a permit for farmers simply to exercise their water rights;” said Rex Houghton, the immediate past president of the county Farm Bureau.

The decision is precedent setting for all irrigators in California.  Had DFG been successful all water rights in California would have been threatened.  The lawsuit argued that this was a “fundamental change” to the law that had been on the books since the 1960’s.  The decision clearly stated that the State Water Resource Control Board and the Courts administer water rights in California not the Department of Fish and Game.

The county Farm Bureau received a lot of support for this lawsuit because of the implications throughout the State.  Family Water Alliance is pleased with the outcome of this lawsuit and commends the farmers and ranchers in the region for their commitment to water rights and private property rights.    ■

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