A recent California Superior Court decision – making it possible to directly sue those who illegally divert streams – now has steelhead and coldwater fisheries groups sitting up and taking notice.
It’s good news for coastal steelhead populations, which are under siege, often due to illegal water diversions which leave their spawning grounds dried up.
From the Weekly Calistogan:
Malan alleges there are 286 illegal water diversions, mostly from vineyard development, in the Napa River watershed.
Because so many people steal water from creeks â€” either they don’t get permits or they violate the conditions of their permits, which constitutes a trespass against the people of the state â€” many of the Napa River tributaries go dead during the summer from too many diversions, said Malan. Steelhead and numerous other aquatic animals die a slow death as pools become warm and lack oxygen and eventually dry up.
â€œPeople who steal water from creeks deprive the down stream ecosystem and people of their public trust right to fish, swim and recreate,â€ she said. â€œThis is an issue that has been going on for years and the major media just doesn’t get it because it’s wineries, not just cities, that are the major takers.â€
“This new Superior Court ruling on Monday says that anyone who diverts water must provide enough flow for downstream fish and if they don’t they can be sued by anyone,â€ said Malan.
Prior to the ruling the people were told by the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) that is was the sole agency with jurisdiction to enforce water law. In truth, anyone wanting to sue anyone diverting had to file a complaint with the SWRCB and it would decide whether to sue.
Impacts On Northern California Salmon & Steelhead Streams?
While this case focuses on diversions in the wine country, you have to wonder how this ruling might affect flow issues in Northern California’s Scott and Shasta Rivers, both of which see damned little water in the summer and fall.
Frankly, it’s a mess up here; Fish & Game has long been vilified for avoiding its enforcement responsibilities, yet instead of phasing in a solution, has suddenly mandated a fairly draconian program.
Now, even the ranchers who want to do the right thing are staring straight down the twin barrels of expensive environmental studies.
The pushback has been enormous, and we’re left to wonder why Fish & Game let this one go for so long.
After all, the salmon up here are truly teetering on the brink – and drying up the rivers (as almost happened last year) is the equivalent of a good shove.
In truth, the political pressure on the issue in Siskiyou County is immense – and it’s not supportive of salmon or steelhead restoration.
Talking to North County political types is one long, head-banging lesson in idealogical thinking: “The salmon are gone anyway,” is a statement you’ll hear over and over.
Not yet, but if that thinking remains in place, soon.
See you in court, Tom Chandler.