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Board OKs Scott River TMDL despite objections

Tam Moore Capital Press Staff Writer 12/25/05

YREKA, Calif. – A controversial pollution control plan for the Scott River watershed in far Northern California was adopted early this month over the objections of just about every witness who testified at the North Coast Pollution Control Board’s final hearing. It’s the first of a suite of Klamath Basin total maximum daily load allocations to become official.

Environmentalist Felice Pace called the implementation portion of the plan “illegal.”

Sari Sommarstorm, a consultant on sediment, described the 700-page backup report as full of “fundamental flaws.”

Vivian Helliwell of the Institute for Fisheries Management said the plan did nothing for providing water flows needed to sustain fish.

About the only person who declared the Scott River TMDL sufficient was Alexis Strauss, a regional representative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The staff report presents a well-reasoned analysis. ... It is consistent with other TMDLs in the Western United States,” she said.

Stripped of all the extra words, the TMDL calls for landowners to grow more shade trees along streams and to take a variety of actions to cut annual sediment discharge to no more than 550 tons per square mile in the 814-square-mile basin. A 40-year target is set for achieving the goals.

The Scott is a significant tributary of the Klamath River, located west of Yreka and oriented generally north and south. Much of its water comes from snowpack in the Marble Mountains.

The North Coast board is under a court-ordered deadline to get its Klamath sub-basin plans wrapped up within two years.

“We have a whole bunch to go,” said Beverly Wasson, the Rio Nido farmer who represents irrigated agriculture on the board and serves as its current chairwoman. In fact, when many of the witnesses urged delay to fix disputed facts in the Scott plan, Wasson and other directors learned from their staff that slipping adoption of one plan might push the whole process off schedule.

In an interview, Wasson said the problem is made worse by staff reductions that limit contact with stakeholders in a watershed. Two years of talk went into the Scott TMDL, compared with three years’ work drafting the first North Coast TMDL at the Garcia River in Mendocino County.

At least one board member, Dennis Leonardi of Ferndale, voted for adoption of the Scott plan and in a following discussion declared it destined to failure.

“Some goals can never be met, even if you stopped irrigation and grew trees (along the streams) to their maximum height,” he said.

In forest areas, the TMDL leaves tree height computation to California Forest Practice Rule standards, but it declares the 2005 standards will stay in place if the state Board of Forestry modifies its riparian rules. Tom Nelson of Redding, a Sierra Pacific Industries forester and former member of the Board of Forestry, said the riparian rules are due for a change because significant data is piling up questioning existing standards.

For reaching the sediment standards, the board set a 90-day deadline for a report back from Siskiyou County government and the two major federal land management agencies.

Supervisor Peg Boland of Klamath National Forest warned that her agency is dependent on congressional appropriations and can’t promise any schedule for lowering erosion potential on forest lands. Siskiyou County Supervisor Marsha Armstrong said without extra government grants there’s no money for additional road maintenance, and study of relationships between ground water and river flow are dependent on well owners volunteering sites for data collection.

All of that doesn’t sit well with Mike Belchik, a fisheries biologist for the downriver Yurok Tribe and one of many at the hearing who asked for help in restoring the Klamath’s fish runs.

“Those who suffer tend to be those who use the fish,” he said. “What we want is a clear path to compliance.”

David Leland, chief of the board’s Watershed Management Division, said rules are a long way off and stakeholders should expect changes in management strategy as more data are collected and analyzed.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.



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