Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California October 26, 2005Vol. 32, No. 50 Page A1, column 1
Water meeting packed
150 attend water quality meeting, where assumptions verses science is the problem, say landowners.
By Liz Bowen, Pioneer Press Assistant Editor, Fort Jones, California
YREKA, Calif. - Scintillating questions and comments were given to the executive officer and two staff members of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board on Oct. 18, during a public comment meeting.
More than 150 landowners and business people from Scott and Shasta Valleys attended, including the mayors and council members from the cities of Etna and Fort Jones, county supervisors and department heads, leaders from the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, chairman of the Siskiyou Resource Conservation District and Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus.
The state agency is claiming flaws in the water quality of the Scott River and has created an Action Plan it expects will improve the water quality. Next year, the Shasta River Action Plan will be up for public comment on its water quality improvement plan that is being developed by the Regional Control Board.
The Scott River water quality improvement plan, called a TMDL Action Plan, that the employees of the Regional Control Board have developed is under fire. The major controversy questions the correctness of data and the results that are being treated as “science.”
Another problem lies in the possibility of additional regulations, permits and enforcements that may be levied on activities of landowners along the Scott River and the streams that feed in to it, if the assumptive science is accepted as fact.
At the beginning of the public comment meeting on the Scott River TMDL Action Plan, staff from the Regional Control Board gave Power Point presentations.
They first discussed sediment in the river and the need to find the places where sediment enters the water and according to the agency causes poor water quality. The second presentation was on warm water temperatures, which the agency employees also say creates less than top-notch water quality.
Tom Shorey, of Fruit Growers Supply Company, asked a pointed question. In previous meetings with the agency staff, he said that there had been a discussion of tributaries, which are streams that enter the Scott River, and the possibility of his company providing its data collection information and as a result receive a “trade-off” by the agency de-listing some tributaries. The information backs up the science for de-listing, but de-listing is not proposed in the TMDL Action Plan.
“Is there going to be a de-listing mechanism?” he asked the three employees leading the meeting.
Two answers came. One was “no” and the other cited the 303 (d) section in the water quality regulations that the Regional Control Board implements -- as the mechanism for de-listing.
Action Plan says Scott River water quality is “impaired”
Currently, the Regional Control Board is going ahead with the listing of the Scott River and its tributaries (streams) as “impaired.” It is this “impaired” listing that kicks-in the development of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Action Plan. TMDL addresses the amount of “impairments” such as warm water temperature that will be allowed by the government to affect water quality.
Catherine Kulhman, executive officer for the Regional Control Board, responded to a question by saying, “There is a lot of research out there, we just haven’t found it all.”
Unfortunately, much of that information is under the agency employees noses and has been offered without response or including it in the 500-page Action Plan document.
Sommarstrom explained “success” in French Creek watershed
The French Creek Watershed Advisory Group began an innovative experiment in 1990. The goal was to solve a problem, which was too much sediment in the creek that flowed into the Scott River.
Sari Sommarstrom, a Ph. D., provided scientific data collection in 1990, which was evaluated and sources of sediment were found. Through combined cooperation of the county, timber companies, other landowners and the Forest Service, her data showed that by the year 2000 re-evaluation, sediment had been drastically reduced.
She then asked that the French Creek data be adopted into the Action Plan, “because it wasn’t there,” and received significant applause.
Menke talks about “hungry water”
During comments by John Menke, Ph. D., he referred to a natural river as containing “hungry water.” In other words, high seasonal water flows naturally erode the banks. It is also admitted there are areas of the Scott River that are no longer natural due to activities from a few landowners and the federal Army Corp of Engineers 50 to 100 years ago.
Menke has taken the lead in arguing with the staff that wrote the Scott River TMDL Action Plan regarding data and science. He is a retired professor from University of California at Berkley and Davis in agriculture and natural resources; and now operates a purebred Red Angus cattle ranch in Scott Valley along with his wife.
“I am really concerned that we will have a document that is not scientifically sound,” Menke told the staff and he is upset at the “methodology” the agency has used to design the fixes in the document.
Menke, who was applauded by the audience before he even spoke, was a pioneer in establishing specific methods and data to create models of what can be achieved regarding improvements in land and vegetation. In other words, he is an expert in the field and is frustrated that well-known experts have not been utilized by the agency.
“You don’t have the breadth of scientific skill,” he said, to produce a truly scientific document.
Menke also told the staff that there is “intellectual capital” in the Scott River area, referring to the landowners themselves. “You should take advantage” of that knowledge,” said Menke.
He then told the Board’s staff that they should read George Gibbs’ Journal, who documented the U.S. Army traveling up the Klamath River and into the Scott and Shasta Valley’s in October of 1851. The document is considered “testimony,” which was provided to the U.S. Congress in 1853. Time and time again, Gibbs spoke of low and stagnant water flows in the Klamath, Scott and Shasta Rivers, which was before agriculture or dams even entered the picture.
In past meetings, Menke has become heated in his comments to the Board’s staff. During his comments, he admitted that the local Resource Conservation District had asked him to “cool it,” which he did. But Menke provided several more instances where the Action Plan is flawed, including the utilizing of photos from 1910 as the target. He said that it is “not feasible to get the number of trees” lining the river and the amount of money that it will take will be a “real waste” by the government and landowners.
“There is nothing more complex than sediment and temperature dynamics,” Menke said, explaining projects undertaken by the University system.
“Intellectual capital” shared by others
The TMDL Action Plan calls for tall trees lining at least 50 percent of the river to produce shade and lower the water temperature. But time and again, citizens questioned if 50 percent old-growth trees was attainable, because nature is destructive and pristine is not often a “normal” function of a watershed.
Mark Baird, a horse rancher in Quartz Valley, was concerned about the “potential theft” of private property by the government. Baird said that he is “willing” to do positive projects on his land, but will not allow the intrusion and oversight by the state agency on his land.
Baird also said that when farmers and ranchers can no longer eek out a living on their land, it will be subdivided and as a result 1,000s of wells and septic tanks will replace the once open spaces.
Pat Griffin, Siskiyou County Agriculture Commissioner, was concerned about the economic affect the resulting permit fees and regulations will have for growers, whose profit margin is already narrow.
When Siskiyou County District 5 Supervisor, Marcia Armstrong, spoke, she detailed the present financial condition of agriculture in the county.
“Eliminating riparian lands will drastically affect agriculture,” she said. “At least 6,635 acres of pasture will be lost.” In reading the Action Plan, she saw no indication that economic impact was taken into consideration by the state agency.
Jim DePree, the natural resource specialist for Siskiyou County, said the county is poor and the state’s Action Plan was missing the funding and budget that would be needed to address county roads issues
Scott Valley rancher, Gareth Plank, said that Sommarstrom’s information should be sufficient for the state in explaining how to improve water quality and reducing sediment and that “we should all go home.”
But since a significant amount of the audience was still there, he continued by explaining there are more than 21,000 water courses (rivers and lakes) designated as “impaired” in the United States through the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the federal Clean Water Act. Of that number, 1,800 are in California. He then provided costs for improvement projects and came up with billions of dollars that will be spent.
Plank added, “Each additional layer of regulations results in failed farms,” and then said that a “Safe Harbor” status should be offered for the next seven years for the landowners in Scott Valley.
Bob Varga, retired forester from the U.S. Forest Service, said that Scott Valley was once called “Beaver Valley” and as such had a very different make up. Using the Beaver Valley scenario as a guide, “is not the appropriate condition to measure against.”
Mark Johnson said that adding another permit process to the three permits that are already in place, will hinder making improvements. He said the government needs to develop a team that could make an instant decision to fix a blowout on a bank, instead of establishing another permit that will lengthen the time it would take to actually get on the ground and do the fix.
He explained that the current three-permit process takes about a year to complete. Adding another permit would extend the process at least another four months. During that time period, the sediment would continue to infiltrate the river.
Johnson said it was important to be able to fix it “immediately.”
Others spoke from their experience and problems they see will be created by additional permits and regulations.
Comments will be accepted by the state agency from the public until Nov. 3.
The address is: North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Development Lead David Leland, 5550 Skylane Blvd, Ste. A, Santa Rosa, Calif. 95043. Or call Leland at 707-576-2069.
Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong encouraged landowners to write to the Regional Control Board and explain the conservation projects they have accomplished on their land.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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