Questions, public comments probe
Ric Costales, Siskiyou County’s natural resource policy specialist, asked the panel of agency representatives to clarify whether or not a prohibition would be placed on all sediment resulting from suction dredge mining or if it would only prohibit sediment considered deleterious to fish.
Mark St. John, from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQB), said that the prohibition applies to all activities as far as sediment goes, with emphasis on sediment that is deleterious to fish.
Rick Butler, of Yreka, asked if the TMDL process is about fish, to which David Leland, also of the NCRWQCB, stated fish are included in the 17 beneficial uses defined earlier in the evening that have been affected. He said that improving the water for fish is a large part of the overall goal, “but it is more broad than that.
“We’re interested in water quality, not destroying an activity or community,” Leland said.
Another man, who said that he had lived and suction dredge mined in Alaska, asked if suction dredges would be defined as point source or non-point source. He explained that in Alaska, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had changed the designation from non-point to point source, which had increased the amount of regulations placed on the activity and he was concerned that the same thing would happen in California.
The panel said that currently the practice is designated as non-point, which means that it is not considered a single point of discharge. Some in the crowd chose to yell out that that would change, but the panel still could not say whether that might happen in the future.
One man asked how the panel knew what the baseline for water quality is and how they arrived at the definition. He also asked how they would know when the water is clean enough.
Leland answered by stating that the process of using literature review, data analysis, modeling and other methods allowed the scientists to arrive at a baseline and a target, from which they were able to determine the specific goals for the Klamath.
One man asked why California should bother to try and clean the water if Oregon does not comply. Earlier in the meeting, it had been stated that one of the Klamath’s main sources of pollution was loading at the state line between California and Oregon.
Leland stated that the need for Oregon to comply was being addressed through a memorandum of understanding with the Oregon DEQ. Whether or not Oregon would comply in the future was not known to the panel.
One of the final questions was, “Who is all this clean water for?”
Leland said, “We are charged with supporting all beneficial uses, for people and the environment.
“I’m confident that it is possible to have clean water and healthy communities.”
Jeff Fowle, commissioner of Siskiyou County’s Planning Commission, asked if Senate Bill 787, titled “Clean Water Restoration Act,” would eventually lead to control of groundwater.
Gail Louis, with Region 9 of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that the groups do not have authority over groundwater.
Fowle also asked the panel if flood irrigation could be encouraged and increased if it were proven to be beneficial for water temperature, to which St. John said it would be possible if it were proven.
The first speaker during the public comment section was Nita Still, a Montague resident, who said that the dams on the Klamath, which are being considered for removal, clean the water and should not be taken out. It may be noted that more than once during the evening the presenters explained that they had no control over whether or not the dams would come out and also that they were developing TMDLs with the assumption that the dams would be in place.
Still did, however, say that she feels that there are many burdens on people right now and the implementation of TMDLs would add more.
A woman representing the Klamath Riverkeeper organization spoke during the session as well, voicing her support for the TMDLs, saying that she supports fishermen and tribes and would like to see the TMDLs be as stringent as possible and that she does not want to see the process left to self regulation.
On her way back to her seat, a few men in the crowd began to heckle the woman and voice some angry questions before Costales insisted that they be respectful of all opinions.
One man, a local physical therapist, said, “It concerns me that you have the power to make these decisions that affect all of us.”
The man talked about how he and his family have gone swimming in the reservoirs behind the dams for years and have never gotten sick from the blue-green algae. However, he did say that whenever the algae was present he knew not to swim in it and he feels that the government does not need to put up signs telling people not to swim in the lake.
The algae, which contains a microcystin bacteria that has been linked to various health issues, has led to warnings against swimming in the Klamath and consuming its fish for a number of years.
Jim Foley, a representative from the Upper-Mid Klamath Watershed Council and the dredging representative for the mining group The New 49ers, gave an impassioned speech calling the expert opinions regarding suction dredging “broad and not backed by science.”
Foley said that he has “volumes of peer-reviewed studies” that he claims show that dredging either has no effect on fish or is beneficial, which he said he has given to some of the members of the NCRWQCB.
Butler then got up to say that over the life of the Earth many species have gone extinct and that now, with many fish species in danger, he implied that it may be part of a grand design.
“It’s pretty arrogant to think that we can change (God’s) will,” Butler said.
Leo Bergeron, of Yreka, claimed that the Klamath has always been a “cesspool.” He also said that he believes that the draft TMDL is based on greed and power and that the whole thing may be fraudulent. Ending his speech, Bergeron said, “If this program is implemented, I know I will see you in court,” which received an ovation from the crowd.
A representative from People for the USA spoke next, saying, “We need to have the best possible science.” He added that he would like a list of the experts that the agencies are using to form the TMDLs, along with their individual background experience, as well as a list of the temperatures measured in the various water sources.
Although not required during the public comment, St. John told the man that the experts are listed on the NCRWQCB Web site and that the information is available.
Costales was up next, saying that while he disagreed with the woman who had spoken earlier on behalf of the Klamath Riverkeeper, he did respect her opinion and he hoped that others could do a better job of respecting others’ opinions in the future.
Costales also touched on two issues he had with the TMDLs, which he referred to as “mission creep” and “topsy-turvy.” He defined mission creep as a process that starts out with small, benign permits and control that eventually becomes a full-blown regulatory process, which he feels the Clean Water Act will end up being.
Topsy-turvy, according to Costales, refers to making members of the public guilty before innocent, making them have to prove that they are not affecting waterways with the government operating under the assumption that they are.
Finally, Costales said that the system seems to punish everyone for the actions of those who are demonstrably affecting waters negatively. “For the few bad apples, we are making everyone jump through all these hoops.” Costales, at the behest of Siskiyou County Supervisor Jim Cook, also recommended that the water board consider an idea for a pipeline that would bring water from Upper Klamath to be used for irrigation, completely bypassing the Shasta River.
Grant Stephens, another Yreka resident, stood up next, saying that he believes most of the people at the meeting would consider themselves environmentalists, but “there has got to be some balance.”
Stephens then said that he knows that those in the agencies are just doing their jobs, but he wanted them to go home that night and “picture our faces and ask if you really want to make us homeless and hungry.”
A woman, stating that she is a new teacher in the area, said during her comment period, “If you keep pushing, you’ll have another civil war on your hands because we won’t just take it.”
Mark Stephens, of Yreka, was one of the last speakers. Stephens, who had interrupted often to either voice his opinion or ask questions earlier in the evening, stated that he had lived in the San Joaquin Valley when concern for the Delta smelt species had led to water diversions from agriculture and a loss in jobs. He said that the experience had left him wary of other attempts to take water from agriculture to improve water systems for wildlife.
“We are watching you, we will resist and we will continue to fight,” Stephens said.
The draft TMDL process has had an ongoing series of public comment sessions. Those wishing to get their comments heard can send written comments until Aug. 23, when the period will close. On July 23 there will be a board workshop in Santa Rosa, with a board adoption hearing set for Sept. 9 and 10 at the Grenada Berean Church in Grenada.