They drained a significant salmon stream against California.Their fine: $50 per farmer

This summer, Northern California farmers defied state drought regulations by draining nearly all water from their rivers for eight straight days. The move enraged environmentalists and salmon-dependent Native American tribes downstream.

California knows the cost of outright farmer rebellion. Less than $50 per farmer.

This is the latest example of California’s lax water-law enforcement process and the first problem uncovered in the Sacramento Bee’s extensive research. A survey published online last week.

On Friday, the day after The Bee article went online, Issuance Proposed by the State Water Resources Board Fined the Shasta River Water Association, an irrigation district that serves approximately 100 farmers and ranchers in Siskiyou County, $4,000.

In August, the association defied state drought mandates by running pumps for eight days, sucking out nearly two-thirds of the water flowing through the Shasta River. State and federal biologists said this pumping almost certainly killed the protected salmon.

The irrigation district had no secret that it needed water to fill its dry livestock ponds, with suspected negative effects on the ecosystem, but a $500-a-day fine was imposed on farmers by the water department. water rights enforcement agency Robert Cervantes said. Waterboard program manager.

Cervantes conceded that less than $50 per farmer wasn’t enough of a deterrent, but just days before fines were raised to a maximum of $10,000 per day, ranchers were well informed. I stopped the pump.

He called the Shasta Water Users Association lawsuit a “poster child” for changing the law and empowering his agency to crack down on violations.

“In the face of increasing climate change and severe drought, we need to be able to have the tools we need to make a positive impact and manage our watersheds, not just in Siskiyou County, but across the state. I have. “

Two farmers on the association’s board of directors did not respond to a message from The b Wednesday about this article, but one of them told CalMatters: may continue to fight back.

“I don’t want to pay them a dime. I want to take them to court,” association president Jim Scala told CalMatters. “Pay them $4,000 or $10,000.” Because it’s like admitting we were wrong.”

Members of the Kalk tribe, downstream where the Shasta River empties into the Klamath River, are outraged that the fines are less than the gas tanks in each farmer’s truck.

“What’s stopping them from doing it again next year?” asked Karuk Tribal Councilor Arron “Troy” Hockaday.

Karuk and other local tribes have spent years trying to lobby regulators to force farmers to leave more water in the Shasta River to provide habitat for the salmon that play an important role in the economy. I have fought. cultural and spiritual lifeThe tribes have watched in horror as the salmon populations in the Klamath Basin have declined significantly over the years.

Bee survey reveals problems

of bee’s survey Last week, California regulators revealed how ill-prepared they are to crack down on water use in California’s 189,454 miles of rivers, which suffer from chronic water shortages and the threat of ecological collapse. did.

▪ Only 11% of farms and cities, on average, comply with the 2015 state law, which requires that water usage be accurately monitored and reported to state water management boards. In the Shasta River Basin, the compliance rate is 7%. Even with improved compliance, state water authorities do not have the tools to properly analyze the data to determine if unauthorized diversion is taking place.

▪ California’s difficulty in tracking water consumption can have negative environmental consequences. One glaring example: The federal program to restore salmon in the San Joaquin River is struggling as billions of gallons of water are lost from the river over the years. No one knows exactly who is taking it or if it is legal to do so. ▪ California does not have a robust system for measuring water flowing through rivers. A river system that is 189,454 miles long has only 1,000 functioning flow meters. A recent report by a consortium of state agencies said the shortage of gauges “leads to data gaps that hinder effective management of California’s limited water resources.”

▪ Enforcement of violators is rare. Also, penalties can lead to years of litigation in administrative hearings and courts before they are actually forced to pay. In the case of the Shasta River Water Association, which featured prominently in The Bee’s investigation, his $4,000 fine issued Friday is not necessarily final.

There is a mandatory 20-day waiting period before it takes effect. Farmers can also demand a hearing, or drag out a process that began in August for a few more months, following Scala’s threats and going to court.

The bee findings “should serve as a wake-up call” for legislative and governor’s offices to change legislation to empower water authorities to act swiftly and decisively to enforce state water-sharing regulations. should be empowered to act swiftly and decisively to enforce state water-sharing regulations, said Commissioner Richard Frank. California Center for Environmental Law and Policy at the University of California, Davis.

Frank noted that other environmental regulators, such as the California Coastal Commission, aren’t as perplexed as the Water Department when it comes to enforcing rules governing the resources they’re tasked with protecting.

“I will never understand for the life of me why we do not have comparable authority to the Water Authority in such a critical area of ​​fair and equitable use of our limited water supply,” Frank said.