A Northern California judge ruled earlier this month that Siskiyou County officials may no longer stop vehicles transporting water to unlicensed Hmong cannabis growers in the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision after the local Hmong community raised serious concerns about racial discrimination.
Siskiyou County had previously banned the transport of water into the area, which the Hmong cannabis farmers in the region felt was specifically racially targeting them and violating their “constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination,” according to Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, the federal judge who tried the case. When ruling on September 3rd, Judge Mueller wrote that the prevention of water transport into the area also deprived residents of water for drinking, cooking, and bathing, which is problematic for numerous reasons. To help enforce her ruling, Mueller issued a temporary injunction against Siskiyou County’s water transport ban in the Shasta Vista community.
“Without an injunction, the plaintiffs and other members of the Shasta Vista Hmong community will likely go without water for their basic needs and will likely lose more plants and livestock. Fires may burn more homes. People may be forced to leave their homes and land behind without compensation,” wrote Mueller. The Hmong farmers’ attorney, Raza Lawrence, is hoping that the injunction becomes permanent to avoid what he said could become a “humanitarian crisis” in the region.
But here’s the thing: there ARE illegal grow operations in the area that will benefit from the incoming water. Officials estimate that there are between 5,000 and 6,000 unlicensed marijuana grow greenhouses operating in the greater Big Springs area, with most of them being concentrated in the Mount Shasta Vista community and, apparently, mostly operated by Hmong and Chinese residents. According to local officials, there has been a correlation between the rise of illicit grow operations and a rise in crime around the area in addition to numerous complaints from other residents who say the grow operations’ use of local water is causing their wells to run dry.
In response to the latter complaint, local officials issued the ban on water trucks entering Shasta Vista (that now has an injunction against it) and also approved ordinances that prevent selling well water without a permit. To enforce the water transport ban, county deputies aggressively pulled over vehicles they suspected of transporting water into the community. But soon after, attorneys for a group of Hmong growers attempted to block the ordinances by filing a suit in federal court in Sacramento. In their suit is where they alleged that the ordinances were racially motivated and were leaving Hmong families without adequate water for their homes, livestock, gardens, and, most importantly, to fight impending wildfires, which were active in the area at the time.
As we know, Judge Mueller chose to place an injunction on the water transport ban, writing on the day of her ruling that “the ordinances are motivated by racial animus.” However, she did note that Siskiyou County attorneys did present a compelling case pertaining to the rise in crime in the area. “Violent crime in Shasta Vista has also spiked in recent years,” she wrote. “The Sheriff’s Office has responded to reports of armed robbery, assault and murder. In just one recent week, a man was pistol-whipped and robbed; another was the target of gunshots fired by a neighbor, and six people were bound and robbed by gunmen wielding AK-47s. Few similar crimes were reported in Shasta Vista before illegal cannabis cultivation took hold.”
To address and mitigate the growing number of illicit grow operations in the area, Mueller let stand the county’s ban on selling water to unlicensed cannabis cultivation operations. The injunction she handed down only applies to incoming water intended for drinking, bathing, and gardening (not cannabis, though).