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Citizens voice concerns over water demands

March 21, 2006

YREKA - About 75 people attended a four-hour public comment period conducted by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) Wednesday night, all very concerned about the demands being placed upon irrigators who take water from the Shasta River. A technical presentation detailing the scientific justification for amending a plan to improve water quality standards in the Shasta River and how RWQCB intends to implement that plan was given by representatives of the North Coast Region of the RWQCB.

The Shasta River is one of the main tributaries to the Klamath River. RWQCB staff have collected temperature monitoring and oxygen level data along all 42 miles of the Shasta River from Dwinnell Dam at Lake Shastina to where it flows into the Klamath River at Highway 96.

From those readings, RWQCB has determined that high water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels as measured at those monitoring points are causing a decline in salmon populations in the Shasta and Klamath rivers.

The RWQCB says they have been studying water quality in the Shasta River for more than 10 years and from those studies, they have come up with a number of recommendations intended to improve water quality in the river. Specific recommendations include an increase in riparian shade, minimizing tail water return flows from irrigation users, increasing stream flows from Big Springs Creek by 50 percent, re-engineering or limiting the way irrigation districts take water from the river, and obtaining an engineering study of potential reductions in nitrogen levels at Dwinnell Dam.


In addition, even though the city of Yreka's water treatment plant was recently upgraded, RWQCB staff say the facility has recently suffered storm damage and its operations must be reviewed by RWQCB to determine what impact, if any, that is having on the river.

Many of the people who attended Wednesday's meeting are long time farmers and ranchers in the Shasta Valley and dispute the contention by RWQCB that increasing flows in Big Springs Creek will lower water temperatures, or that that amount of increase in flow is even possible.

Rancher Blair Hart and a member of the Shasta Valley Regional Conservation District and the Shasta River CRMP said increasing water flows out of Big Springs Creek by 50 percent “is physically un-doable. The water just is not there.”

Hart also added, “To try and come up with an efficient way to use water in this valley that will keep everybody in business and also put water back in the river is going to be tough, because of the rock formations and geology here.” However, RWQCB engineer, Matt St. John disagreed, saying historic flows out of Big Springs Creek are within the range of those identified by RWQCB when they came up with the 50-percent increase scenario.

Siskiyou County Farm Advisor Dan Drake presented his own calculations and research figures about the amount of flow in Big Springs Creek and the impact that flow has on water temperature, which disagreed drastically with the data relied upon by RWQCB.

Hart expressed a serious concern that if Shasta Valley water users cannot meet the criteria that the board is setting to improve water quality within a five-year time limit, “that there is a possibility of re-adjudication (of water rights) and that scares the thunder out of everyone here,” Hart said. When it was suggested that the potential for re-adjudication be eliminated from the language in the plan document, North Coast Region executive director Catherine Coleman said, “I don't think we are going to go quite that far.”

Addressing the suggestion that increasing riparian shade by planting trees along the banks of the river could lower temperatures in the river, Tim Louie said, “My family has been in Big Springs since 1859. Big Springs and Little Springs never flood and run between 56 and 58 degrees year round, so you are already starting with warm water.” Louie said family photos of trees and vegetation growing along the river's edge in the early 1900s are virtually the same as they are today, adding that getting trees to grow in some areas of the Shasta Valley is almost impossible.

The Montague Water Conservation District is the owner of the Dwinnell Dam and is being required by RWQCB to hire an engineer to study a nitrogen reduction strategy for Lake Shastina. That study will have to be completed within five years. Montague district board member, Stan Sears, complained that his district did not have the money to pay for that study and asked Coleman for a cost estimate to complete such a study. "We'll get back to you on that," Coleman said, but added that other communities like Lake Shastina, Edgewood and Weed who may have an impact on the quality of the water at Lake Shastina may be required to participate in the funding of the study.

The Grenada Irrigation District, the Montague Water Conservation District, Big Springs Irrigation District and the Shasta Water Users could all be affected by RWQCB's requirement that the way those districts take water from the Shasta River will have to be re-engineered or limited. Potentially those irrigation districts could be required to move their dams, or have them re-engineered and reconstructed to comply with RWQCB specifications. The districts have two years to complete their studies and advise RWQCB of the upgrades they intend to make in their water retrieval systems. 

Even though a number of beneficial uses were listed for the waters of the Shasta River, fish were at the top of the list during the RWQCB presentation. “We feel pretty good about the science that we have,” Coleman said, adding “Anything we can do to ... leave water in the river for fish, we want to support.”

Patrick Griffin, Siskiyou County's ag commissioner, expressed concern that increased flows in the river will be made at a high cost to Shasta Valley growers. “It does not matter where you take the water from, it will affect agriculture,” Griffin said. “I am the ag commissioner and my mission is to protect and promote agriculture in the county. People are going to be very cooperative until you take their water, and then you will see some resistance,” Griffin added.

Jack Cowley, a Little Shasta rancher expressed concern that RWQCB was placing little or no emphasis on agriculture in its decision making process. “The amount of beef produced in the Shasta Valley amounts to $7 million in new money flowing into this area,” Cowley said. “That same amount of money has been providing beef for 93,000 people in the U.S., so it is a significant amount and I want to make certain that we take into consideration agriculture as a beneficial use.”

Coleman said it was her hope to continue to work with landowners and the Shasta Valley Resource Conservation District to accomplish the goals of the RWQCB.

After the meeting, Siskiyou County Supervisor for District 1, Jim Cook, said, “We have been complaining bitterly about this whole implementation plan.” Cook said it took several years to develop the data utilized in the plan, but the written version was put together in less than four months and was never shown to anyone affected by it until its release. According to Cook, the short time line to get all these things done - in some cases as little as two years - is setting water users up for failure so that RWQCB can say, “No, you have not done anything, so sorry, we're taking your water,” Cook said.

“Farmers and ranchers in the Shasta Valley have been studying water quality on their own for more than 15 years and at a time when the people who wrote this draft plan were still in grade school,” Cook said. “We are trying desperately to make sure they re-write the document so that it is understandable to everyone,” Cook added.

“The farmers and ranchers of the Shasta Valley are in business and will do what they have to to stay in business,” Cook said. “We are trying to make sure they (RWQCB) do not remove agriculture as a beneficial use at the cost of fish,” Cook said.

The public comment period to address the Shasta River TMDL Action Plan runs between Feb. 7 and April 3. The last day for written comments was extended another 10 days to April 3. After public comment closes, an adoption hearing will be held on May 17 by the RWQCB Board in Fortuna.

To submit written comments, contact the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board at 5550 Skylane Blvd., Suite A, Santa Rosa, CA 95403, to the attention of Lauren Clyde.

For details about the proposed plan, you can visit the RWQCB Web site at http:/www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/programs/tmdl/shasta/shasta.html or contact the North Coast office in Santa Rosa at (707) 576-2674.






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