Herders told to stop diverting water to drought-stricken area

HAPPY CAMP, Calif. (AP) — California has warned a group of farmers and ranchers near the Oregon border to stop diverting water from an area already ravaged by extreme drought and fire forest that has killed tens of thousands of fish.

Last Friday, the State Water Resources Control Board issued a draft cease and desist order to the Shasta Water Association, warning it to stop taking water. water in the Shasta River watershed.

The association has 20 days to request a hearing or the order becomes final and could subject the organization to fines of up to $10,000 a day, according to the national water agency.

The diversions had been ongoing since Tuesday, said Ailene Voisin, information officer for the state water department.

Since last year, the state agency has reduced water use in the watershed to keep water flowing into the Shasta River, a main tributary of the Klamath River and a nursery for a fragile and federally protected species of salmon.

Three weeks ago, salmon and other fish species were found dead along a mile-long stretch of the Klamath.

Biologists believe a flash flood caused by heavy rains sent mud and debris from a massive wildfire burning upstream into the river, bringing oxygen levels to zero for a few days, Craig said. Tucker, natural resources consultant for the Karuk tribe.

A rough estimate is that 50,000 to 100,000 suckers died along with an unknown number of salmon and other species, Tucker said.

Then, beginning Aug. 17 and Aug. 18, the flow of the Shasta River dropped to about half the required minimum emergency flow of 50 cubic feet per second, the state water agency said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the flow was 14 cubic feet per second, according to state figures.

Fifty cubic feet per second is the estimated water flow needed for fish in the river, a refuge for salmon that flows year-round thanks to Mount Shasta’s glacier-fed cold springs, Tucker said.

Herders appear to be pumping water from the river or diverting springs on or near their land to irrigate cattle pastures or alfalfa fields, Tucker said, although the tribesmen did not venture onto private property to investigate.

The Shasta River Water Association, Inc. is a tax-exempt irrigation group, based in Grenada, California, representing approximately 80 agricultural members. A message to an email associated with the association was not immediately returned on Tuesday.

However, in an August 17 letter to the water board, the group said it believed the exemptions allowed it to reduce its diversion by just 15% and said it would start pumping water to supply livestock in hot weather and to fill ponds for fire suppression.

“The reduction has dried up the Shasta Valley to the point of endangering the health and lives of the public and residents who live here, with apparent disregard for the health of livestock and domestic animals in this watershed,” the statement said. letter.

The concern about the low flow in the Shasta is that the fall salmon spawning season is approaching. The fish will start moving up the river in a few weeks to spawn and if the water level is too low they may be unable to find the protected pools they need to prevent their eggs from being washed away or devoured, said Tucker.

Salmon is revered by the Karuk Tribe and the Yurok Tribe, the second largest Native American tribe in California.

The species has suffered from low flows in the Klamath River in recent years and a deadly salmon parasite thrived in the warmer, slower waters last summer, killing fish in large numbers.

“What we do here will be a barometer for the rest of the state,” Tucker said. “If the state can’t enforce its own river flow regulations, California fisheries don’t stand a chance.”

This is just one of the battles being waged for water in the West, particularly along the California-Oregon border, where agriculture competes with conservation and where various stakeholders and government are struggling to cope with dwindling supplies.

In southern Oregon, the Klamath Irrigation District said it planned to defy a U.S. government order issued last week to halt water deliveries to farmers in the drought-stricken basin.

Scientists said climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Across the American West, a 22-year-old mega-drought got so bad in 2021 that the region is now experiencing the driest period in at least 1,200 years.

Comments are closed.