Siskiyou, South County, Yreka

Ranchers Falsely Accused in Siskiyou Daily News Story

–Article ignores real story of State Water Board’s abuse of power


An August 31 story published in Siskiyou Daily News is a prime example of “fake news” created by the media to influence the hearts and minds of news consumers. The article, written by the Associated Press (AP) and titled “Ranchers warned to stop diverting water,” shows a picture of fish floating belly-up in a river—obviously suggesting that ranchers killed those fish. The subheading under the title reads, “Low flows in the Shasta River resulted in tens of thousands of fish dying.” This was a lie. This subheading wasn’t in the original Associated Press article–Siskiyou Daily News added this defamatory claim all on its own.

The headline is blatantly misleading. A full read of the story reveals that the “tens of thousands of fish” were actually killed in the Klamath River in the aftermath of the McKinney Fire. The photo was taken two weeks before the ranchers diverted water—from a wholly different river, the Shasta. (The ranchers didn’t harm any salmon in doing so, as detailed below, contrary to the AP article’s insinuations). By pairing the headline with that dramatic photo, the Siskiyou Daily and AP achieved their goal of influencing the opinions of subscribers and grocery shoppers scanning headlines at the checkout. (By the way, the dead fish in the photo are actually suckers—a fact that most casual consumers of the news wouldn’t have realized).

Sadly, this “news” story didn’t just falsely accuse ranchers of killing fish. The story also missed THE newsworthy detail of the whole affair: these Shasta ranchers were victims of underhanded treatment by the State Water Resources Control Board.

Dark back story: the State’s Emergency Drought Regulation

Our readers may be aware that Shasta and Scott valley ranchers are already on the receiving end of heavy-handed and unfair Emergency Drought Regulation by the State Water Board. This Regulation, adopted in August 2021, is calling for unreasonable flow levels in the Shasta and Scott rivers in order to protect salmon and steelhead—levels that aren’t scientifically proven to be necessary for those fish. If flows dip below the “emergency” required levels, farmers and ranchers in the respective valley must turn off their irrigation pumps and surface diversions. Unless, that is, they have already “voluntarily” agreed to reduce their water use by 30% in the Scott and 15% in the Shasta. This attack on irrigation water is unprecedented.

But even more incredibly, the Regulation also limits how much livestock are allowed to drink. Has any dictatorship ever done this at any time in history?? The Regulation also prohibits watering livestock using “earthen ditches,” which is considered “inefficient.” This is what got the ranchers of the Shasta River Water Association in trouble.

On July 12, the State Water Board turned off the ranchers’ diversion out of the Shasta River, which is normally used to provide water to at least 5,000 head of cattle–using primarily earthen ditches and ponds. Those ponds began to lower to the point where cattle were bogging down and dying in the mud in attempt to get to water. (By the way, the Shasta River Water Association has water rights to divert a certain amount out of the Shasta. The State Water Board is not compensating any Scott or Shasta ranchers for the taking of their water under this Regulation.)

The State Water Board’s big lie

What happened next has gone unreported by almost every media outlet. The Shasta River Water Association asked permission from the State Water Board on August 5 to divert enough water to provide for the minimum needs of their cattle, an exception that the Regulation allows when other water sources are not available—but only with permission. However, the State Water Board ignored this request. After almost two weeks of waiting for a response, the Shasta Water Association’s board finally voted, in an act of desperation, to turn on their diversion.

The State Water Board responded by issuing the Association a draft cease-and-desist order threatening $10,000 per day in fines, claiming the Association had never asked permission to divert. The National Marine Fisheries Service even issued a letter threatening criminal charges. All this, despite the fact that those ranchers had tried to follow the rules from the beginning but were stonewalled.

As proof that the Association really did submit a request for permission to divert water, the State Water Board finally responded—on September 7th, over a month later!—asking for more information. As of 9/11, the State Water Board still hadn’t given a final answer.

No salmon harmed by the diversion

Another fact that has gone unmentioned by almost every media story: There’s no chance any salmon were killed by the diversion. At this time every year, in this stretch of river, the natural temperatures are too warm for salmon, so none would have been present when the ranchers diverted water. Yet, concern over salmon is the whole crux of the Regulation and the stories written about this “criminal” diversion.

Siskiyou Daily sloppy with its dates

Siskiyou Daily was also sloppy with its dates. The paper was reprinting an AP story that had been written a week earlier. Instead of checking for any needed updates to the story, as any self-respecting publication should do, Siskiyou Daily printed the article as-is. Thus, an important detail was misreported: the ranchers had stopped diverting on August 24th, 8 days after they’d started. But the 8/31 article in Siskiyou Daily said “The diversions were continuing as of Tuesday”—implying Tuesday 8/30. That would have meant a full 14 days of “illegal” diverting—and counting. This story was old news before Siskiyou Daily first put ink to paper. But that didn’t stop them from giving readers the impression that the drama was ongoing.

Diversion didn’t draw river below historic levels

Yes, the ranchers’ diversion did draw the river down considerably, from about 42 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 12.2 cfs. But those flows are not outside of the 60-year average of 10 to 20 cfs (see flow data from the US Geological Survey Yreka Gage). USGS data shows that, after the diversion was turned off on August 24, the flows bounced back immediately to 49 cfs the next day.

Driest spell in 1,200 years?

This claim is made at the end of the article. But the USGS flow gages on both rivers show that we’ve had lower flow years in the past—and they’ve been operating for less than half a century. True, we’re in a tough drought—but these catastrophic “megadrought” claims seem to be a tool used by anti-agriculture extremists to get rid of small, independent food producers here in Scott and Shasta.

Agriculture competes with conservation?

Along those lines, the article claims this story is “only one of the battles being fought over water in the West, especially along the California-Oregon state line where agriculture competes with conservation…” Why is agriculture assumed to be competing with conservation? Agriculture is far preferable to subdivided neighborhoods or many other land uses we could list—such as fallowed fields (a.k.a., hotbeds of invasive weeds and wildfire). Ranchers and farmers in the Scott and Shasta valleys protect our open spaces and provide us with food.

Unfortunately, it looks like we might have to count Siskiyou Daily News as one of the anti-agriculture extremist forces.


I published the following articles:

On August 6th, 2022

On August 25th, 2022

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