On Friday, the State Water Resources Control Board sent a draft cease-and-desist order to the Shasta Water Association, informing the group they needed to stop collecting water from the Shasta River watershed, according to the Los Angeles Times. The group is an irrigation organization exempt from taxes and has around 80 members.
The Shasta Water Association has twenty days to ask for a hearing or the order will be complete, which could mean that the group has to pay fines of up to $10,000 per day, the state water agency said.
Ailene Voisin, a state water board information officer, told the outlet that the water diversions were still happening as of Tuesday of this week.
The state agency has decreased water use in the specific watershed since last year to allow water to keep pouring into the Shasta River, which is a tributary of the Klamath River. It is also a safe place for a specific vulnerable species of salmon that is federally protected.
The region has already suffered from other recent events as salmon and other fish died in the Klamath river. Scientists believe the event was caused by 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. He noted that around 50,000 to 100,000 suckerfish are estimated to have perished, as well as salmon and other fish.
The Shasta River then fell to around half of the minimum emergency flow necessity for the fish, which is 50 cubic feet per second, according to the state water agency. On Tuesday, that number was down to 14 cubic feet per second.
Tucker said that ranchers seem to be taking water from the river or diverting water on or near their property in order to use the water for their agricultural fields and pastures. However, the tribal groups haven’t gone onto their land in order to look into this claim.
The drought in the region has severely impacted agricultural output. In a letter to the water board on August 17, the agricultural group said it thought the exemptions permitted it to cut down its diversion of water by just 15%, and also stated it would begin using water for animals when the weather reaches high temperatures, and also to use for ponds in order 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.