Wednesday, November 5, 2008

California Department of Fish and Game proposes sweeping Coho “Take” and “Stream Alteration” local-control permits for Shasta and Scott River Ag

The California Department of Fish & Game has published Draft Environmental Impact Reports (DEIRs) for the proposed Scott River Watershed-Wide Permitting Program and the proposed Shasta River Watershed-Wide Permitting Program. If granted, the proposed permits would “Cover” all agricultural operations of participating landowners and allow “Take” of Coho salmon which are listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. The sweeping permit programs would be administered by the Shasta and Siskiyou Resource Conservation Districts which are appointed by the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors and which are dominated by ranchers and farmers.

The DEIRs for the Shasta and the Scott respectively are available at the Department of Fish & Game’s web site. Comments on the DEIRs are due on or before December 9, 2008. Comments should be directed to:

Mr. Bob Williams
Department of Fish and Game
601 Locust Street
Redding, CA 96001

Fax: 530-225-2381

Comments can also be submitted by e-mail. The email address for comments on the Scott DEIR is:; The e-mail address for Shasta DEIR comments is:

The public may also submit verbal and written comments at public meetings which have been scheduled on the DEIRs. The Scott meeting will take place at the Fort Jones Community Center on November 18, 2008 from 7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. The Fort Jones Community Center is located at 11960 East Street in Fort Jones. The Shasta meeting has been scheduled at the Siskiyou County Superior Court on November 19, 2008 from 7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. The Siskiyou County Superior Court is located at 311 Fourth Street in Yreka.

Here is how the Department of Fish & Game describes the purpose of the permit programs:

The primary purpose of the Program is to facilitate compliance by Program participants with Fish and Game Code Section 1600 et seq., and with respect to coho salmon, the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) (Fish and Game Code, §2050 et seq.) while conducting specific routine agricultural activities the Program covers. Farmers and ranchers in the Program area may participate in the Program. Other participants include the Shasta Valley and Siskiyou Resource Conservation Districts which will perform restoration activities under the Program. Department of Water Resources will also participate in the Program because it provides watermaster service in the Program area, and as part of that responsibility delivers water to farmers and ranchers.

Fish advocates are not opposed to the idea of providing farmers and ranchers in the Shasta and Scott River Valleys with workable ways to obtain stream alteration permits or with programs by which they can comply with legal requirements. However, those who advocate for Klamath Salmon say the permit programs proposed for the Shasta and Scott are fatally flawed and do not comply with the California Endangered Species Act and other applicable laws. Advocates also say that granting these permits would set a dangerous precedent that could be applied elsewhere in the state and that Coho Salmon Recovery will not be possible in these watersheds if the permit programs are implemented in the form they are proposed.

Here are the “fatal flaws” which salmon advocates have identified:

  • The permits are designed to cover not just irrigation water diversions from streams but ALL agricultural operations of participating landowners. This includes unregulated activities - including groundwater pumping - which are likely to be negatively impacting stream flow. In the Scott, for example, there is a peer reviewed study (see abstract at the end of this post) indicating that unregulated groundwater pumping (which has doubled since the 1950s and now accounts for about half of all irrigation in the Scott) is responsible for 60% of the reduction in Scott River streamflow. Adjudicated rights of the Forest Service to flows in the Scott for fish are now not met in the late summer and fall even in average water years. Chinook migration is delayed in even average water years; in drought years Chinook don't reach the Scott Valley and Coho migration has been delayed due to insurmountable salmon migration barriers caused by low river flow. In very dry years the Scott River now completely dries up before it leaves the Scott Valley. Advocates say the Shasta has similar problems with groundwater and that any riparian landowner can pump unlimited amounts of water from the Shasta River.

  • The Department of Fish and Game proposes to put the farmer and rancher dominated Siskiyou and Shasta Resource Conservation Districts in charge of enforcing stream alteration permits and the California ESA. Advocates liken this to putting the proverbial fox in charge of the proverbial hen house. They say that the Department of Fish and Game can not legally delegate its permitting and enforcement authorities to locally appointed boards. The Resource Conservation Districts were not set up as regulatory agencies and it is doubtful that their farmer and rancher dominated boards would be willing to enforce rules and regulations on their neighbors.


Here’s the scientific journal abstract of the peer-review study which found that 60% of the reduction in Scott River streamflow can not be attributed to changes in climate and snowpack and are likely related to unregulated groundwater pumping:

Relative Effects of Climate and Water Use on Base-Flow Trends in the Lower Klamath Basin

Authors: Van Kirk, Robert W.1; Naman, Seth W.2

Source: JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, Volume 44, Number 4, August 2008 , pp. 1035-1052(18)

Publisher: Blackwell Publishing


Since the 1940s, snow water equivalent (SWE) has decreased throughout the Pacific Northwest, while water use has increased. Climate has been proposed as the primary cause of base-flow decline in the Scott River, an important coho salmon rearing tributary in the Klamath Basin. We took a comparative-basin approach to estimating the relative contributions of climatic and non-climatic factors to this decline. We used permutation tests to compare discharge in 5 streams and 16 snow courses between “historic” (1942-1976) and “modern” (1977-2005) time periods, defined by cool and warm phases, respectively, of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. April 1 SWE decreased significantly at most snow courses lower than 1,800 m in elevation and increased slightly at higher elevations. Correspondingly, base flow decreased significantly in the two streams with the lowest latitude-adjusted elevation and increased slightly in two higher-elevation streams. Base-flow decline in the Scott River, the only study stream heavily utilized for irrigation, was larger than that in all other streams and larger than predicted by elevation. Based on comparison with a neighboring stream draining wilderness, we estimate that 39% of the observed 10 Mm3 decline in July 1-October 22 discharge in the Scott River is explained by regional-scale climatic factors. The remainder of the decline is attributable to local factors, which include an increase in irrigation withdrawal from 48 to 103 Mm3/year since the 1950s.

Keywords: surface water hydrology; climate variability/change; rivers/streams; Klamath River; salmon; permutation tests

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2008.00212.x

Affiliations: 1: Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, Idaho State University, 921 S. 8th Ave., Stop 8085, Pocatello, Idaho 83209 2: Research Assistant, Department of Fisheries Biology, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California 95521.

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