Sierra Club: State Water Board Rebuke

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North Coast Water Board’s permits to control agricultural
and forestry pollution are inadequate

In recent years, I have personally filed numerous requests with the North Coast Water Quality Control Board asking them to control agricultural pollution in the Scott River Basin, Lower Klamath Lake area, Tule Lake Basin, and adjacent to the Smith River Estuary. Clean up plans for water pollution in these areas are supposed to implement the Clean Water Act and are required to control deposition of livestock waste and protect riparian areas to reduce nutrient, sediment, and pesticide pollution in order to restore “swimmable and fishable” stream conditions.

The pollution cleanup plans also require that landowners allow natural shade to develop and remain along streams that pass through their property to reduce excessively high stream water temperatures which, along with excessive sediments and nutrients, are impairing beneficial uses of water, including culturally and economically important salmon fisheries.

All I have received in response to these requests, however, is lip service. The North Coast Board has refused to actually regulate and control agricultural pollution; staff and board continue to allow bank trampling, plowing right down to stream banks, shade removal, and the deposition of livestock waste directly into our streams.

I also began asking the California State Water Resources Control Board, which has a duty to “review the regional board’s action or failure to act” (Water Code Section 13320), to step in and force the North Coast Board to actually and effectively regulate agricultural pollution. The Karuk Tribe petitioned the State Board challenging the North Coast Board’s Waivers of Waste Discharge Requirements for the Scott and Shasta River Basins.

The commercial salmon fishermen (Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations/PCFFA) challenged the North Coast Board’s plan for “voluntary compliance” without a permit for lily bulb growers on Smith River Plain, adjacent to the Smith River Estuary, where more pesticides are found per acre than anywhere else in California. Pesticide residues and nutrients are present in surface and groundwater at levels toxic to aquatic life and those waters pose health risks for workers and other residents.

Finally, the State Water Board has responded. Rather than directly ordering changes, however, they chose instead to present the “Eastern San Joaquin Precedential Order” to the North Coast Board as an example of what must be included in orders, waivers, and permits to comply with federal and state anti-degradation requirements, as well as the State Board’s Enforcement and Non-Point Source Pollution Policies.

The Water Board’s Non-Point Source Policy refers to so-called “diffuse” sources of pollution including stormwater, pollution from forestry activities, and pollution from agriculture. The policy requires that five key elements be included in all orders to control agricultural, forestry and stormwater pollution (see box at right).

Most of the North Coast Water Board’s agricultural and forestry orders do not contain all required
elements. Critically and chronically missing are “evaluation programs” and “feedback mechanisms,” including monitoring actual water quality conditions, needed to ensure “proper implementation and verification” and “all necessary implementation actions to meet water quality requirements.”

What happens now?

Now that the State Water Board has (albeit gently) made clear the North Coast Board’s non-compliance with the Clean Water Act’s requirements, I’ve asked the North Coast Board to identify those orders, permits, and waivers that do not comply and develop a timeline for fixing them. And I have specifically identified the North Coast Board’s so-called “Stewardship Program” for the Klamath River Basin, which amounts to voluntary compliance, as also being in violation of key State Water Board policies implementing the Clean Water Act.

The North Group will be attentive to see how the North Coast Water Board and its staff respond to the State Board’s rebuke. The North Coast Board’s recent announcement that it will develop a permit for lily bulb growing adjacent to the Smith River Estuary is a good sign. However, if the Board fails to define a clear path and timeline to bring its agricultural and forestry orders, permits and waivers into compliance with State Board requirements, The North Group and others will once again be petitioning the State Board.

This time we will challenge the non-regulatory and illegal “stewardship” policy, which has failed to control the Klamath River’s agricultural pollution. In some years, the pollution kills most juvenile Klamath River salmon before they can reach the Pacific Ocean. That must end. In addition to dam removal, adequate control of agricultural pollution in the Upper Basin, Shasta, and Scott watersheds is necessary in order to restore the Klamath River and Klamath salmon. Anything less is unacceptable. Stay tuned.

The Water Board’s Non-Point Source Policy requires the following five key elements:

• Key Element 1: A NPS control implementation program’s ultimate purpose must be explicitly stated and at a minimum address NPS pollution control in a manner that achieves and maintains water quality objectives.

• Key Element 2: The NPS pollution control implementation program shall include a description of the management practices (MPs) and other program elements expected to be implemented, along with an evaluation program that ensures proper implementation and verification.

• Key Element 3: The implementation program shall include a time schedule and quantifiable milestones.

• Key Element 4: The implementation program shall include sufficient feedback mechanisms so that the [Regional Water Board], dischargers, and the public can determine if the implementation program is achieving its stated purpose(s), or whether additional or different MPs or other actions are required.

• Key Element 5: Each [Regional Water Board] shall make clear, in advance, the potential consequences for failure to achieve an NPS implementation program’s objectives, emphasizing that it is the responsibility of individual dischargers to take all necessary implementation actions to meet water quality requirements.



One need not be a Sierra Club member to participate in these outings. Please join us!

Monday May 6 – North Group Humboldt Redwoods State Park Grasshopper Peak Hike. A springtime adventure, 13.5 miles round-trip. Let’s hike this 3,379-foot mountain before the days get too hot.  Revel in spring wildflowers, lush old-growth redwoods and, weather permitting, vistas near and far of the Mattole and Eel river country, the Lassics, and the Avenue of the Giants. Bring lots of water and lunch, and dress for the weather. No dogs. Medium difficulty, 13.5 miles, 3000 ft. elevation change. Carpools: 8 a.m. Herrick/Hikshari Park’n’Ride. Leader: Ned,, 707-825-3652. Heavy rain cancels.


Please Join Us!

The North Group’s Executive Committee meets on the second Tuesday of each month in the first floor conference room at the Adorni Center on the waterfront in Eureka.  The meeting covers regular business and conservation issues, beginning at 6:45 p.m. Members and non-members with environmental concerns are encouraged to attend. When a new person comes to us with an environmental issue or concern, we often place them first or early on the agenda.