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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Ridin' Point
- a weekly column published in the Pioneer Press

by Marcia Armstrong, Siskiyou County Supervisor District 5
(ran in the Pioneer Press Oct. 11, 2006)

Stream and Wetlands System Protection Policy, 9/29/06

In order to “fill gaps” in the current Basin Water Quality Plan, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) is working on a region-wide Stream and Wetlands System Protection Policy (SWSPP.)

Currently, the Basin Plan identifies the “beneficial uses” of each water body – such as cold water fish (salmon,) agriculture and recreation. It then determines what the water quality must be like to support those uses. For example, salmon need cold water and clean gravel of a certain size for spawning beds. The Plan specifies a (numeric) range of water temperature that is needed and may give a description (narrative) of the maximum amount of sediment that the river can move and still maintain clean gravels. If a water body is found not to be meeting the requirements of its beneficial uses, then a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is established. Activities found to “pollute” or cause the water body to exceed its TMDLs will be monitored and changed through regulation and incentive to reduce their impact to target levels. The Salmon, Scott, Shasta and Klamath Rivers all have TMDLs established or in the process of being set. 

The regional SWSPP will be in addition to the TMDL process for each water body. The policy’s first purpose is to protect the overall hydrologic structure, (stream channels; riparian areas; floodplains, wetlands and the connection between them.) The second purpose is to protect the functions that these physical characteristics perform: filtration, flood water storage, groundwater recharge, distributing river energy and nutrients, fish and wildlife habitat etc. The third purpose is to consider the impacts to these characteristics by all human uses together on a cumulative and watershed basis. Narrative water quality objectives will now be set for hydrology, active channel, floodplains, riparian vegetation and in-stream habitat.  

SWSPP will aim to maintain soil infiltration of water, prevent excessive erosion or depositing of sediment by encouraging space for river meanders, moderate flows, protect floodplain buffers, establish and maintain riparian vegetation and protect instream habitat.  

Implementation of the SWSPP will be done on the basis of locally developed watershed plans that propose changes and “best management practices” to avoid, minimize and mitigate negative impacts. The policy envisions local government agencies or watershed councils creating the plan. The watershed plan will include an inventory and assessment of wetlands and riparian areas. “Performance goals” and “management measures” by resource users will be established to accomplish SWSPP goals. Grant funding will be available on a competitive basis for projects. Both the Scott River and Shasta River TMDLs already reference the SWSPP. “Waste Discharge (permit) Waivers” allowed under the TMDL will be subject to compliance with the conditions of use and programs under the SWSPP.    

Meeting with Bruce Ho and NCRWQCB staff, the question arose – Doesn’t this prescribe one land use over another? (The example given was agricultural vs. fish habitat.) Staff explained to the effect that water quality objectives for agriculture were principally salinity levels. However, “water quality” habitat factors for fish included shade, clean gravel, cold water, cover and channel structures that depend upon an entire well functioning hydrologic system to exist. So, requiring land uses to be subservient to those habitat needs does not pose a conflict under water quality considerations.   

The NCRWQCB will be meeting with “interested stakeholders” over the next several months. Their Staff Report Workshop is anticipated in the spring of 2007. Public review and comment will be in the spring-summer of 2007. The final public adoption hearing is expected in the fall of 2007. http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/programs/basinplan/swspp.html

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