Environmental Groups Move to Intervene in Elk River Water Quality Lawsuit

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Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
Elk River Flooding

Flooding of Elk River

Arcata, Calif. – The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Association (PCFFA), and the Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR), filed paperwork this week to intervene in a lawsuit to defend clean water from logging pollution.

EPIC and allies seek to defend the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s May 20, 2015 decision to not authorize discharges of sediment and other associated waste into waters of the Elk River watershed from logging operations under Humboldt Redwood Company “McCloud Shaw” Timber Harvest Plan (1-12-110HUM). Humboldt Redwood Company brought suit in Sonoma Superior Court to force the Water Board to allow it to pollute.

The Elk River watershed, located just south east of Eureka, California, was declared significantly adversely and cumulatively impacted by discharges of sediment and other waste as a result of reckless and poorly-regulated timber harvesting operations conducted in the watershed by the then-Pacific Lumber Company, under the ownership of MAXXAM Corporation and Charles Hurwitz.

Water quality impacts include significant reductions in stream and channel capacity resulting from overwhelming sedimentation, resulting in increases in the frequency and intensity of flooding and destruction of traditional domestic and agricultural water supplies, and the destruction of salmon habitat. Because of its impaired state, the Elk River watershed was added to the list of impaired waterbodies in Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act in 1998. An October 2015 report on the conditions of the river and sediment impacts from ongoing logging now being conducted by Humboldt Redwood Company found that the company’s timber operations are still polluting the Elk River, and that the watershed’s condition continues to worsen.

Elk River Rd Flooding

North Fork Bridge on Elk River Road at intersection with Wrigley Road. Note, only the guardrails of the bridge are visible. Photo taken by Kristi Wrigley on January 17, 2016

In the nearly 20 years since the declaration that the watershed is cumulatively impacted and the 303(d) listing, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state agency responsible for administering the PorterCologne Water Quality Control Act, and protecting, enhancing, maintaining and restoring the quality and beneficial uses of waters of the state, has undertaken a 2 number of regulatory and non-regulatory actions aimed at addressing the sediment impacts and correcting the ongoing discharges of sediment and other waste resulting from industrial timber operations in the watershed.

“The time is long past due to address the sources of pollution and recover the Elk River,” said Rob DiPerna, EPIC’s Forest & Wildlife Advocate. “The forest, and the watershed and its residents have suffered long enough.”

Humboldt Redwood Company’s lawsuit comes against the backdrop of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s plans to adopt a Total Maximum Daily Load for Elk River, and to adopt a newer, and more restrictive water quality control permit for the company, at its April 7, 2016 meeting, to be held in Eureka, California.