Shasta County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley issued a preliminary injunction yesterday, just hours before a full hearing was to begin, blocking the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from enforcing a water-management order for a group of Central Valley pot growers.
California and the state’s water districts and environmental groups appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last month accusing the federal government of violating state and federal law by denying water deliveries to pot farmers. Though the threat of a government crackdown on the state’s pot industry is still a looming threat, pot farmers in Northern California can at least rest easy knowing they won’t be losing their water access.
Federal Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California has blocked the Central Valley Project Improvement Act from taking effect in 2018. In a ruling issued Thursday, Alsup, a member of the court’s environmental division, said the law, which would have limited water deliveries to marijuana growers in the state, “may well be premature.”
A federal court has overturned a Northern California county’s prohibition on trucks carrying water to Hmong cannabis producers, claiming that it raises “serious concerns” about racial discrimination and leaves the growers without a source of water for basic hygiene, vegetable gardens, and animals.
On Friday, Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller granted a temporary restraining order against Siskiyou County’s ban on trucked-in water supplies to Hmong marijuana growers in the Mount Shasta Vista community in the Big Springs region north of Weed.
“Without an injunction, the plaintiffs and other members of the Shasta Vista Hmong community would certainly go without water for their basic necessities, and additional plants and animals will likely perish,” she wrote. “There is a chance that additional houses may be destroyed by fires. Without recompense, people may be compelled to abandon their homes and land.
“The plaintiffs’ constitutional right to be free of racial discrimination has also been called into question.”
Hundreds of Hmong farmers have purchased inexpensive property in the neighborhood and built hundreds of marijuana greenhouses on the lava-rock strewn slopes in contravention of the county’s prohibition on commercial cannabis production during the past five years.
Authorities estimate that there are 5,000 to 6,000 greenhouses in the Big Springs region, with 4,000 to 8,000 workers tending to them, the majority of whom are Hmong and Chinese immigrants.
Because most of the plots lack wells, the Hmong buy water from neighboring farmers’ agricultural wells and transport it by truck to the grow sites, where swimming pools and huge portable tanks provide water to the greenhouses.
As the greenhouses grew, residents began to worry that their wells were drying up. Meanwhile, county law enforcement authorities reported an increase in violent crime, as well as illicit pesticides and fertilizers, garbage heaps, and raw sewage leaks at the farms.
The county passed laws prohibiting selling well water without licenses and water trucks on the roads leading to the neighborhood this spring, claiming the need to preserve residential wells and cut off the supply to illicit growers. Anyone suspected of transporting water was forcefully stopped by deputies.
Is there a ‘Racial Animus at Work’?
Attorneys for the Hmong farmers filed a federal lawsuit in Sacramento, claiming that the regulations were racially motivated and infringed on their civil rights.
Their lawyers claimed that denying the folks who tended the plants of water suffocated more than just the cannabis. Residents of Shasta Vista were also denied the ability to wash, maintain vegetable gardens, and keep their ducks, chickens, and other animals alive due to the county’s actions.
As their civil action plays out, Mueller’s order made it apparent that she thinks the farmers have a case to prove that “the regulations are motivated by racial animus.” However, the court upheld a county law prohibiting the sale of well water for the purpose of illicit cannabis growing. According to Allison Margolin, one of the Hmong’s lawyers, the injunction solely covers water sales and delivery for human necessities such as bathing and gardening.
Edward Kiernan, the attorney representing Siskiyou County, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. In earlier interviews, Siskiyou County officials denied that race had a role in their decisions.
According to Mueller, the county makes a convincing argument that crime is on the increase.
“Violent crime has also increased in Shasta Vista in recent years,” she added. “Reports of armed robbery, assault, and murder have been received by the Sheriff’s Office. A guy was pistol-whipped and robbed, another was the victim of bullets fired by a neighbor, and six others were tied and robbed by gunmen carrying AK-47s in only the last week. Before the illicit cannabis growing took root in Shasta Vista, there were few reports of comparable crimes.”
She also mentioned the sheriff’s claims that living conditions are dangerous and that individuals have died from carbon monoxide poisoning in unpermitted buildings, as well as the grow sites causing to environmental issues.
Greenhouses dot the countryside north of Siskiyou County Road A-12 in this drone picture taken on May 13, 2021. Many of the new illegal marijuana plants have been linked to members of the Hmong community who have relocated into the Mount Shasta Vista neighborhood in recent years. Community residents, on the other hand, claim that a different group of Chinese farmers has recently boosted the visibility of activities in the region. Xavier Mascareas may be reached at [email protected]
She claims, however, that the county has other zoning and other regulations in place to address the problems without depriving the households of water.
“Shasta Vista people may drink and bathe in unfit water trucked in from neighboring agricultural wells, but the alternative is very little or no water,” she wrote. “If, as the county says, drinkable water is readily accessible, this injunction in no way precludes authorities from assisting Shasta Vista residents in locating and using that potable water.”
The shooting of lava fire is being investigated.
Mueller also pointed out that, although Siskiyou County professes to be ready to grant licenses for lawfully carrying water, it has made it plain that it is not interested in doing so for the Hmong, many of whom do not understand English well.
The applications are all printed in English, and anybody who signs one must promise not to break any county regulations, which Mueller adds include not having a reliable water supply at their residence.
“Many individuals in the Shasta Vista Hmong community do not reside in authorized buildings and do not have approved water sources,” she wrote.
Hmong farmers also claimed that the water restriction prevents them from putting out any fires that break out in the neighborhood.
A lightning strike nearby ignited the Lava Fire, which burned across many properties in the Mount Shasta Vista neighborhood in late June.
The Hmong in Shasta Vista accused firemen of failing to attempt to put out the fire, preventing them from bringing their own water trucks to battle it themselves.
During the Lava Fire on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, outside of Weed in Siskiyou County, Hmong people brought in their own water tank truck to assist put out the hot sports at a burning marijuana field. Officers shot and killed a man after he fired a pistol at them near a huge complex of cannabis fields threatened by the Lava Fire, according to the Siskiyou County sheriff. [email protected] Paul Kitagaki Jr.
The marijuana growers allegedly barricaded highways, hurled rocks, and caused Cal Fire personnel to flee the area, according to local police.
Officers shot and killed a Hmong man who they claim attempted to drive past a fire checkpoint holding a pistol, escalating tensions.
The investigation into the incident is still continuing, according to county authorities. The official report, as well as any body camera or dash camera video from the incident, has yet to be published by authorities.
Meanwhile, Mueller’s injunction goes into force immediately and will last until the federal lawsuit is resolved. There is no set date for the trial.
Another of the Hmong farmers’ lawyers, Raza Lawrence, said Tuesday that his clients hope Mueller’s order becomes permanent since it is preventing a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Shasta Vista, but in the meantime, they’ll take whatever water they can get.
He added, “Now they can finally go back to living their lives normally on their property.”
A federal judge on Wednesday blocked federal agencies from denying water supplies to two pot-growing communities that have been at loggerheads with the U.S. government for more than a decade.. Read more about siskiyou county drug bust 2021 and let us know what you think.
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