By TIM HEARDEN
YREKA, Calif. - The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau's lawsuit challenging California Department of Fish and Game restrictions on irrigation is set to go to trial next week.
Pretrial motions are scheduled to be heard at 8:30 a.m. Monday, April 30 in the Siskiyou County Courthouse. The trial is set to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 1, with Superior Court Judge Karen Dixon presiding.
The local Farm Bureau filed suit last year, contending that Fish and Game is violating Scott and Shasta valley landowners' water and property rights for requiring permits for irrigators.
"Obviously we're anxious to move forward with the trial so we can resolve this issue once and for all for the agricultural water users in Siskiyou County," said Darrin Mercier, a local property-rights attorney representing the Farm Bureau.
"Right now they are under threat of enforcement, both civilly and criminally, for the mere act of exercising their water right until this issue is resolved, or face the daunting possibility of getting a permit."
The state waived its right to a jury trial, so the two sides agreed to let Dixon adjudicate the case without a jury, Mercier said.
State Attorney General Kamala Harris' office, which is defending the lawsuit, does not comment on pending cases, spokesman David Liu said.
The suit asks the court to prevent the state agency from enforcing what the plaintiff calls DFG's "new" interpretation of state Fish and Game Code Section 1602, which the agency has argued requires landowners to obtain expensive permits for simple diversions.
The suit asserts that farmers need declaratory relief or they could face misdemeanor charges and civil and criminal penalties of more than $25,000 per violation.
To obtain streambed alteration and incidental take permits on their own, landowners would have to pay fees and environmental review costs that could fall between $11,000 and $28,000, a water official has said.
The suit was filed as San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith was set to invalidate a much cheaper watershed-wide permit the DFG offered to landowners in the two valleys in 2010. Goldsmith ruled the agency didn't prepare the permits in accordance with environmental laws.
Last summer, Siskiyou County Superior Court Commissioner JoAnn Bicego denied a motion by the Karuk Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper and two other environmental groups to intervene in the local Farm Bureau's lawsuit.
Siskiyou County Farm Bureau: www.siskiyoucountyfarmbureau.com
California Department of Fish and Game: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/