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Shasta River conservation programs  moving ahead

By Rob McCallum, July 18, 2007, Mt Shasta News
The Shasta River, seen here above Edgewood Road near the Weed Airport, has been identified by the EPA as impaired by high temperature and low oxygen content. Among the mitigations being conducted are tree planting and fencing off livestock from its banks.

It used to be that the Shasta River was like a cold glass of water, fed with ice cubes from Big Springs and Mt. Shasta's glaciers. These days the lazy river stretching 41 miles from Mt. Eddy to its confluence with the Klamath River is closer to room temperature.

Listed as impaired by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 for high temperature and low oxygen content - both considered factors in the decline of salmonid populations - the Shasta River underwent a process called Total Maximum Daily Load.

The state water board defines a TMDL as a framework for assessing the condition of a watershed, identifying water quality problems and developing a plan for restoration. After years of information gathering, running computer models, releasing reports and subsequent public comment, the Shasta River TMDL implementation work plan is in place.

Now the goal for the regional water quality board, local agencies and landowners appears to have been set - adding 45 cubic feet per second of water suitable for salmonid populations to the Shasta River.

“We have the same amount of water, we just want to make some of it an ice cube,” said Catherine Kuhlman, executive director of the North Coast Water Board. “It's shifting the water in the drainage around, if you will.”

The river is the primary irrigation source for the Shasta Valley's cattle, alfalfa hay, nursery product and potato market, which the Shasta Valley Resource Conservation District says contributes $116 million annually to the local economy.


But the larger issue is the fact that the coho and Chinook salmon, trout and lamprey in the Shasta River feed into the troubled Klamath River. So the Shasta River TMDL public comment receives input from agriculture interests in the Klamath Basin, Indian tribes along the river and fisheries near the outlet to the Pacific Ocean.

How 45 cfs of cold water gets into the system is now the biggest question.

“We have a number of projects, either conservation or restoration in the valley,” said Adriane Garayalde of the Shasta Valley Resource Conservation District. “We have a number of partners involved in the projects on the ground and getting grant funding.”


One of the primary contributors to high temperature on the Shasta, according to the TMDL, is lack of a riparian zone on its riverbanks.

Without trees adjacent to the river, the report says, water gets baked in midday sun throughout the Shasta Valley. Furthermore, impoundments and diversions create pools that can harbor alga and put distance between the riparian zone and middle of the river.

Unfortunately, simply planting shade trees on the banks is proving difficult for landowners.


“We've planted them carefully, put guards on them, installed drip irrigation systems and they just don't prosper,” said Ernie Wilkinson of Save our Scott and Shasta Valleys. “What they're asking us to do we've already made efforts to do so.”

Wilkinson said another factor, grazing on riverbanks, is being mitigated.

“Seventy five to 85 percent of the Shasta River is excluded to livestock by fencing and alternative stock water sources,” he said. “That still leaves a big percentage of stream, but we're working on that too.”


The SOSS surmises the biggest impact on the Shasta could be from tailwater flows, water returning to river after being irrigated.

“Almost all of the Shasta Valley is irrigated by diversions and canals,” Wilkinson said. “That water flows over the land and returns to the river, largely without being filtered or buffered. That for darn sure carries pollutants like fertilizer, which adds nitrates to the entire system.”

Through filtration systems at the point of discharge on individual farms and ranches, Wilkinson said, pollutants like fertilizer could be removed from the tailwater and also be cooled before it returns to the Shasta River.


Filtration systems can come in the form of settling ponds, gravel beds or simply discharging tailwater into a field and letting it return to the drainage underground.

Whether or not the goal of 45 cfs can be achieved or not, parties involved with the Shasta River appear to be moving toward compliance with the RWB, and will likely avoid a messy water adjudication battle with the EPA.

“We'll make our best effort,” Garayalde said. “That's what you have to do with the TMDL - strive to work forward and make progress. It's a good faith effort.”

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