The government has told farmers and ranchers in Northern California to stop diverting water from a region dedicated to protecting fish.
The State Water Resources Control Board sent a draft cease-and-desist order to the Shasta Water Association, ordering farmers to discontinue collecting water from the Shasta River watershed, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The group, which holds 80 members, is an irrigation organization exempt from taxes.
The Shasta Water Association has twenty days to ask for a hearing, or the order will be complete, meaning the group has to pay fines of up to $10,000 per day, according to the state water agency.
State water board information officer, Ailene Voisin, said the water diversions were still happening as of Tuesday of this week.
Since 2021, the state agency has decreased water use in the specific watershed to allow water to keep pouring into the Shasta River – a tributary of the Klamath River.
It is also a federally protected area for specific vulnerable species of salmon.
The region also suffered from recent events as salmon, and other fish died in the Klamath river.
Scientists say the mass fish deaths were due to a flash flood that carried waste from a wildfire and affected the oxygen quality of the water, according to Craig Tucker, a consultant on natural resources for the Karuk Tribe, per the outlet.
Tucker also notes that around 50,000 to 100,000 suckerfish are thought to have died, along with salmon and other fish.
According to the state water agency, the Shasta River fell to around half the minimum emergency flow necessary for the fish.
That number went from 50 cubic feet per second to 14 cubic feet per second as of Tuesday.
Tucker said farmers and ranchers were taking water from the river or diverting water on or near their property for agricultural fields and pastures.
But the tribal groups haven’t gone onto their land to look into this claim.
The agricultural output has been severely impacted by the recent drought.
“In the San Joaquin, we anticipate that the curtailments will go down as far as 1900 in terms of priority, with some sub-watersheds in the 1910s to 1920s,” Ekdahl said Tuesday during a state water board meeting.
“In the Sacramento watershed, we actually don’t anticipate significant curtailments at this time,” with the exception of some smaller tributaries”
In a letter to the water board – dated August 17, the agricultural group said it thought the exemptions permitted it to cut down its diversion of water by just 15%, stating it would begin using water for animals when the weather reaches high temperatures and to suppress fires.
“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.