New Water Permit for Dairies / North Group Sponsors Campers

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Dairy cattle graze amid the sloughs at the Smith River estuary. Photo: Courtesy of Carl Page.
Dairy cattle graze amid the sloughs at the Smith River estuary.
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Page.

Water Board Adopts New Permit for Dairies

At its August meeting in Santa Rosa, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a new clean water permit for dairies. The Waste Discharge Requirements permit applies to dairies from Sonoma County north to the Oregon border and throughout the California portion of the Klamath-Trinity River Basin.

Dairies have great potential to contaminate groundwater and are often associated with nitrate pollution. Nitrates in drinking water are a serious health risk, particularly for children and pregnant women. The new permit requires groundwater monitoring by dairies for the first time, and requires dairies to develop riparian management and nutrient management plans.

How effective the permit will be at preventing pollution and protecting health will depend on how well it is implemented. Implementation in general and enforcement of permit requirements on agricultural operations in particular have not been North Coast Water Board strong points. That makes it essential that members of the public file complaints when they observe water pollution, including wetland and riparian degradation. Complaints about water pollution and other environmental problems can be filed with the California EPA online (anonymously if desired) at

Locally, most dairies are located on or near coastal wetlands, including the Eel, Mad, and Smith River estuaries. While many of these dairies are “organic” that does not necessarily make them good environmental stewards. At least one North Coast organic dairy received a Notice of Violation from the North Coast Water Board recently for not properly caring for riparian areas.

At the Smith River estuary, nitrate pollution has been a problem at the Reservation Ranch Dairy, which provides drinking water to workers. Along with lily bulb growing, dairy and other animal-based agriculture adjacent to the Smith River estuary contributes to surface pollution that has been shown to be toxic to aquatic organisms and groundwater pollution that places people’s health at risk. That is why the North Group and others continue to pressure the North Coast Water Board to develop a comprehensive pollution control program for the Smith River estuary area, which includes the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation (formerly Smith River Rancheria), the unincorporated town of Smith River, and the area known as Smith River Plain.

If you would like to help the North Group advocate for clean water and environmental justice adjacent to Smith River Estuary or anywhere on the North Coast, call Felice at 707-954-6588.

North Group Sponsors Three Youth Campers

by Sue Leskiw

Three youth campers sponsored by the North Group Sierra Club.
Three youth campers sponsored by the North Group Sierra Club.

This summer, North Group sponsored three campers—an 11-year-old girl from Eureka, an 11-year-old boy from Fortuna, and a 12-year-old boy from Loleta—to attend a week-long session at Lost Coast Camp near Petrolia.

This is the third year that campers sponsored through donations to the Lucille Vinyard/Susie van Kirk Environmental Education Fund have gone to overnight camp at this venue in the Mattole Valley. The facility’s mission is to “provide youth with a dynamic summer camp experience that promotes building self-esteem and positive friendships, individual expression, and fostering an appreciation for the natural world.”

In exchange for their tuition, the campers agreed to submit an essay to North Group about their experience. Below are excerpts:

Camper 1: “I loved camp. I made new friends, got to see cows, and had lots of fun. My favorite part about the cows was the cow bones. I got to paint them and at school I get teased about what I wrote on them. I had sooooo much fun going swimming, pranking the boys, and hanging out with all my friends.”

Camper 2: “I made friends, went on a hayride, saw a puppet show, went to Farmer John’s house, did archery, did the Water Olympics, went canoeing, and did lots of art projects. Some art projects were face painting, friendship bracelets, and card making. We flipped over twice in the plastic canoe but not in the metal one. We rode down the current in the metal one. Farmer John pulled the hay wagon with his tractor. We drove past blackberry bushes and grabbed berries. I made a lot of new friends and am thankful I got to go to Lost Coast Camp.”

Camper 3: “I had a blast at Lost Coast Camp. Everyone was so kind and welcoming and my cabin mates were extremely helpful, teaching me how to sing the songs that we sung every day and how to clean the kitchen. I loved going swimming in the river every day, going to Strawberry Rock, having a campout at the river, watching a movie, and staying the night in the barn. We looked for cool rocks underwater and had a contest to find the coolest one. It was beautiful watching the sunset from Strawberry Rock and picking delicious blackberries. We got to eat hot dogs and Rice Krispy treats. The barn, which was really old, was nice and cozy. Camp was a one-of-a-kind experience. I’m thankful that I got the opportunity
to experience it all.”