Over Extraction and Drought Decimate Local Rivers


Over Extraction and Drought Decimate Local Rivers

State Water Board approves Drought Emergency
Regulations for the Scott River and Shasta River

Since May, when Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency for many parts of the state, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has been developing drought emergency regulations for the Scott and Shasta Rivers. The process has involved several public hearings and comment periods. W.A.T.E.R. submitted a forceful letter advocating immediate and strong action to protect the rivers.

On August 17 the SWRCB approved Drought Emergency Regulations for the Scott River and Shasta Rivers, likely to go into effect next month.

The Scott and Shasta Rivers have been severely impacted by low in-stream flows for many years as a result of the over-allocation of water rights going back to the 1932 adjudication, increases in unregulated and unmonitored groundwater extraction, illegal diversions, increased frequency and severity of drought years, and the decades-long lack of attention to this mounting crisis by the agencies tasked with managing the rivers. The rivers’ ecosystems have been so compromised that fish species are listed as threatened under the state and federal Endangered Species Act and fish populations that are vital for commercial and recreational fishing industries and of significant cultural importance for California Tribes are being decimated. This year’s drought emergency has finally prompted state agencies to act.

We applaud the SWRCB for finally stepping up to its responsibility to manage water for the greater good, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for finally establishing the minimum, dedicated in-stream flows necessary to ensure a healthy river ecosystem. The SWRCB is finally recognizing the essential relationship between surface and groundwater, something that has been largely ignored in the past.

The emergency regulations attempt to equitably accommodate the many competing uses for the water, which has previously been biased in favor of agricultural uses. The emergency regulations will require water rights holders to curtail their use (based on the existing water rights priority system) to provide adequate in-stream flows to protect the threatened Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast coho salmon and the culturally and commercially significant fall-run Chinook salmon. Provisions are made for voluntary reductions in diversions in lieu of mandated curtailments.

Although these emergency regulations only apply during the drought emergency and we have some concerns about potential loop holes, we are hopeful they will begin the process of restoring of the rivers’ ecosystems and set precedents for long-term regulations to restore and protect the rivers. Constant vigilance by the public will be necessary to ensure this happens. Information about the SWRCB’s efforts can be found HERE. For more information about the issues of the Shasta River watershed, we recommend the Friends of the Shasta River website (