Residents speak up for Elk River & National Forest Water Quality
Two salient items were on the agenda of the June 19 and 20 North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NC Water Board): proposed adoption of Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs) for the forest holdings of Humboldt Redwood Company in the Elk River Watershed and a report on the permit (technically called a “waiver”) that is intended to implement the Clean Water Act on National Forest lands within the region.
Nonpoint Source Pollution
Both agenda items involve what our Clean Water Act calls nonpoint source pollution, which enters waterways from diffuse sources across the landscape, rather than from a discrete conveyance like a pipe from a sewage plant or factory. Agriculture, forestry and stormwater run-off are principal sources of non-point pollution.
Sediment from forestry, including logging and the associated roads on public and private land, is the top reason numerous North Coast streams, including the lower Klamath River and many tributaries, are listed as sediment impaired.
Agriculture has major impacts on private lands but also on grazing allotments in our region’s national forests. Poorly managed grazing in wetland-dominated headwater basins and wilderness streams contributes significantly to high stream temperatures and low fall flows that plague salmon and other cold water fish downstream.
Humboldt Redwood Company’s Elk River WDR
On June 19 Water Board staff finally produced a new draft WDRs, after having missed a State Board deadline. The new draft WDRs is a vast improvement over the previously adopted permit, and now includes reasonable rules for when logging and hauling must shut down due to rain or snow.
The Water Board surprisingly adopted the new WDRs unanimously, but representatives of the Elk River residents were not impressed. They pointed out that because the watershed is listed as water quality impaired for sediment, no additional sediment from logging and hauling should be allowed. They want a moratorium on logging until the watershed recovers.
The residents are correct. The North Coast Basin Plan, which implements the Clean Water Act within the Region, is unequivocal in stating “controllable factors shall not cause further degradation of water quality.”
While it will allow some sediment delivery to streams, Humboldt Redwood’s Elk River WDRs sets a new standard for private land logging and log hauling in watersheds that are “sediment impaired.” The North Group and its allies will now insist that CWA permits for other sediment impaired timber industry lands incorporate the same levels of protection found in Humboldt Redwood’s Elk River WDRs. If the Water Board does not deliver, we’ll be back petitioning the State Board.
Controlling Pollution on National Forest Lands
On June 20, Water Board staff and Forest Service officials reported on the implementation of a permit (technically called a “waiver”) the Board issued in 2015 for national forest lands within the Region. Chief among problems reported is that national forest grazing allotments mostly escaped CWA regulation due to a technicality.
In comments from the public, EPIC’s Tom Wheeler highlighted Water Board staff approving salvage logging that delivers massive amounts of sediment to streams which are already sediment impaired—a double whammy to burned watersheds—on both timber company controlled and national forest land. Timber companies often begin salvage logging before the fires are out.
Susan Frick, representing the Karuk Tribe, focused on the massive Westside salvage logging after 2014 fires on the Klamath National Forest, lamenting the failure of the Water Board to back the Tribe’s alternative post-fire action,which would have logged fire-killed timber but stayed off unstable lands and riparian areas, unlike the Forest Service’s plan.
I testified on behalf of the North Group and the Grazing Reform Project (www.grazingreform.org) highlighting the massive sedimentation that recurs when Water Board staff allow the Forest Service to rebuild logging roads that have failed time and again in major storms. No amount of “stormproofing” will prevent those roads from failing with catastrophic sediment consequences during major storms.
These presentations to the NC Water Board rendered crystal clear the fact that pollution from logging, unsurfaced roads, and poorly managed grazing remain major sources of water quality degradation in our region. What was also clear is that the public wants that pollution to end. As one of my presentation slides asked: If we can not get clean water on our national forests where can we get it?
One need not be a Sierra Club member to participate in these outings. Please join us!
Saturday, August 17—South Kelsey National Recreation Trail Hike. Join us in the Smith River National Recreation Area for an 8-mile round trip, exploring a portion of the nascent Bigfoot Trail. From the trailhead just off the never-completed but well-paved G-O Road, we will hike past Buck Creek and the Summit Valley Trail junction to Eightmile Creek and return. Dress for sunny summer weather and a possible swim. Giant cedars and other wonders await us. Bad weather may cancel. Bring lunch, a hat, and water. No dogs. Carpools: Meet 8 a.m. at Ray’s Valley West shopping center. Medium difficulty, less than 1,000 feet elevation change. Contact leader Ned, 707-825-3652 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.