The state of California has warned a group of ranchers to stop diverting water from the Shasta River watershed with drought and a recent mass-fish kill heavily impacting the nearby waterways.
The State Water Resources Control Board has drafted a cease-and-desist order to the Shasta Water Association, warning it to stop taking water from the river. The Shasta River, one of the main tributaries to the Klamath River, is a nursery for federally protected salmon and is currently critically low.
The Shasta Water Association has 20 days to request a hearing before the order becomes final, which would subject them to fines up to $10,000 a day. As of Tuesday, water is still being diverted, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. Fish in the Shasta River need approximately 50 cubic feet per second to survive. That number is currently 14 cubic feet per second.
Fish species are in critical condition following a mudslide in the burn zone of the McKinney Fire, which killed approximately 50,000 to 100,000 fish in the Klamath River. The slide dropped oxygen levels down to zero, killing nearly every fish for miles on the river.
With the drought nearing its peak in Northern California, it appears ranchers are diverting water from the river or nearby springs to irrigate cattle pastures or alfalfa fields. Officials from the local Yurok Tribe have been unable to venture onto private property to investigate the claim.
The Shasta Water Association is comprised of about 80 agricultural members, essentially lobbying for water rights for farmers. In a letter written on August 17, the tax-exempt group claimed that exemptions allowed it to reduce its diversion by only 15 percent.
“The curtailment has dried the Shasta Valley to the point of endangerment to health and life of the public and residents who live here, with apparent disregard to the livestock and pet health within this watershed,” the letter said.
As the drought continues to intensify in Northern California, so do the water wars. The nearby Klamath River is set to begin the largest dam removal in the history of the United States, removing four dams to help the endangered salmon populations revered by the Yurok Tribe. The battle for water near the Oregon border doesn’t seem it will stop anytime soon.