Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
April 22, 2011 Tim Hearden/Capital Press
From left, Anne Walent of Yreka, Calif., Tiina Chick of Etna, Calif., and Dayna Crow of Greenview, Calif., show their signs in a protest against state water regulations April 21 in Fort Jones, Calif.
FORT JONES, Calif. -- Ranchers here fear they may soon face new fees or fines for activities that push sludge into the Scott River or heat the water.
A state water board is reviewing a five-year-old waiver that exempts certain agricultural practices from sediment and temperature controls under the Clean Water Act.
The conditional exemption noted the many measures landowners in the Scott Valley have taken voluntarily to protect the river's cool waters, including fencing off livestock and adding trees and other vegetation along the banks.
Many landowners described their efforts during a meeting April 21 of representatives from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, which will consider renewing or revising the waiver later this summer, Catherine Kuhlman, the board's executive officer, said board members have been impressed with the ranchers' efforts.
"The plan is that we will reissue the waiver," Kuhlman said in an interview. "We haven't really thought of what-ifs. We're assuming that we can get this done. We're hearing there's a lot of great stuff going on in the community and that it's working."
The meeting was the second in two days for the water board, which reported April 20 on the progress of a study of groundwater use in the Scott Valley from Thomas Harter, a hydrologist at the University of California-Los Angeles.
The sediment controls are only the latest perceived government threat to landowners in Siskiyou County in far Northern California. In an attempt to save threatened coho salmon, the state Department of Fish and Game last year told landowners they could face fines or jail if they didn't obtain special permits for irrigation.
About 60 landowners staged a protest before the April 21 meeting, decrying what they see as state intrusions into their water rights.
During the meeting, landowners - including one whose ranch has a water right dating back to the 1800s - said their operations won't survive if they're saddled with fees for studies or fines for noncompliance.
"The health of the river directly correlates to the health of our livelihoods," said Alexis Plank, 23, whose family has put in a riparian corridor, planted native vegetation and used a pond as a sediment filter.
The Scott River was listed as "impaired" for sediment and temperature in the 1990s, explained Danielle Yokel of the Siskiyou Resource Conservation District. State-mandated controls - referred to as a total maximum daily loads (TMDL) - aim to reduce sediment from erosion, landslides and other sources by as much as 63 percent.
Water officials would not say specifically what would happen to landowners if the agricultural exemption were lifted. Local leaders believe a new waiver could require landowners to monitor discharges and report their activities, as is done in nearby Shasta Valley.
Some landowners fear environmentalists could sue the North Coast water board if a new waiver is granted. Environmentalist Felice Pace, a former Scott Valley resident who lives in Klamath, Calif., lauded landowners' conservation efforts during the meeting but said the few landowners who "don't care about their stream" shouldn't be let off the hook.
"There's good stewards and there are bad stewards," Pace said. "Why do we want to protect the bad stewards? ... We all depend on that water. We're all stakeholders in the water."
But property owners said overregulation has actually harmed the river. Since the coho were listed, private timber harvests along the Scott have virtually stopped, taking away income that was available for riverbank improvements, forester Mike Duguay of Etna, Calif., said.
"In my view, the agencies are the biggest obstacle to water quality in this valley," he said. "The private sector has to use a for-profit approach to getting these things done."
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board: http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/rwqcb1/
Scott River TMDL: http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/northcoast/water_issues/programs/tmdls/scott_river/
Page Updated: Sunday April 24, 2011 02:55 AM Pacific
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