YREKA, Calif. - A judge here ruled Dec. 24 that the state Department of Fish and Game overstepped its authority by requiring ranchers to obtain special permits for irrigation.
The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau filed suit earlier this year asking Superior Court Judge Karen Dixon to block the DFG from enforcing what ranchers have called its "new" interpretation of Fish and Game Code Section 1602, which deals with water diversions from rivers and streams.
The suit asserted that farmers holding diversion rights on the Shasta and Scott rivers needed declaratory relief or they could face misdemeanor charges and civil and criminal penalties of more than $25,000 per violation.
Farm Bureau members announced the suit's outcome as soon as it was issued. Their attorney, Darrin Mercier, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The farmers' suit was filed after San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith invalidated a much cheaper watershed-wide permit the DFG offered to landowners in the Scott and Shasta valleys in 2010. Goldsmith ruled the agency didn't prepare the permits in accordance with environmental laws.
During testimony in the Siskiyou Farm Bureau case in May, a trio of farmers said the DFG's actions would add a new layer of requirements they'd have to meet to irrigate their crops, and a legislative history expert told the court the section in question had more to do with lake and stream alterations than water use.
- Tim Hearden