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Water disputes draw crowds of demonstrators to Yreka courthouse

The Siskiyou County Superior Court became the focal point of ongoing struggles in the community over water rights, particularly when it comes to marijuana grows that are outlawed by county ordinance.

Posted: May 6, 2021 4:56 PM
Updated: May 6, 2021 6:31 PM

YREKA, Calif. — The Siskiyou County Superior Court on Thursday became the focal point of ongoing struggles in the community over water rights, particularly when it comes to marijuana grows that are outlawed by county ordinance.

Commercial cultivation of marijuana has been illegal in Siskiyou County since the ordinance passed in 2017, and it has been extended in the years since. Regardless, marijuana grows have only proliferated in rural areas of Siskiyou County, with local law enforcement agencies struggling to make a dent in the lucrative trade.

Most of the land parcels commonly used for marijuana cultivation are located in previously undeveloped rural areas, and are lacking in infrastructure — no sewer systems, no garbage service, and (most importantly) no water.

As a result, another niche industry has popped up to serve the parched grow sites. Some land owners with their own wells have taken to pumping and selling water, transported by truck, to the growers in areas like Big Springs. The practice has increasingly upset other local residents, accusing the water shippers and growers of depleting local aquifers that many people depend upon — in the midst of a drought, no less.

Responding to public outcry, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted this week to prohibit pumping groundwater for use on a different parcel of land without a permit, and restrict water trucks carrying over 100 gallons from using certain local roadways. Violations are subject to a fine.

Citing statements made last August by Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue, the Board said that roughly 9.6 million gallons of water are expended on illegal marijuana grows every day.

"The use of groundwater to supply activities and land uses off-parcel that are conducted in violation of County land use ordinances is wasteful and unreasonable, aids in creating property conditions declared by the County to constitute a public nuisance, and reduces the resources available to the reasonable, beneficial, and lawful uses of groundwater from every affected aquifer," the Board resolved.

On Thursday morning, with a case related to the water disputes scheduled in Siskiyou County Superior Court, protesters gathered around the courthouse. Unlike some previous demonstrations in Siskiyou County, the bulk of the crowd appeared to consist of people in support of the water trade. Many of them were Asian American, carrying signs decrying the water transport crackdown as discriminatory.

The protesters held signs, declaring "We Need Water," "Stop Discriminatory Harassment," and "Asian American Lives Matter." 

The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said that Thursday's demonstration was vocal and peaceful, and the protesters dispersed around noon. A more detailed statement is expected later.

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