State Water Board Approves Strictest TMDL in State History

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Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Elk River Resident Kristy Wrigley testifying before the State Water Resources Control Board -August 1, 2017

The California State Water Resources Control Board has moved to ratify and strengthen conditions in the most stringent Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and watershed remediation plan (Action Plan) for remediation ever established in the State. At its August 1, 2017 meeting in Sacramento, the State Water Board ratified the now-15-year-tardy TMDL and Action Plan for the Upper Elk River Watershed, just south of Eureka, California. The State Water Board also moved to clarify the terms and expectations for the TMDL and Action Plan, and directed the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to revisit sediment pollution discharge permitting frameworks for the two major industrial timberland owners in the upper Elk River watershed by no later than January 2019.

In May 2016, the North Coast Regional Water Board adopted the Upper Elk River TMDL and established the limit on additional sediment pollution in the upper watershed, known as the load allocation, at zero, meaning no new human-caused sediment pollution from activities such as timber harvesting, can be discharged without exacerbating the damaged conditions and their impacts on water quality, fish, wildlife, and local residents. A scientific synthesis report of sediment in the Upper Elk River Watershed (Tetra Tech 2015), found that sediment pollution resulting from past and contemporary timber operations had overwhelmed the river’s capacity to withstand or move through any further sediment inputs. As clarified by the State Water Board, the TMDL and zero load allocation apply to all human-generated sources of sediment pollution, past, present, and future, until the capacity for Upper Elk River to assimilate further sediment is expanded through remediation conducted through the TMDL Action Plan’s Recovery Assessment and Stewardship Program components.

The State Water Board sent a clear and direct message to the Regional Board, Humboldt Redwood Company, and Green Diamond Resource Company. In order to ensure the attainment of no new sediment discharge, current sediment waste pollution discharge permits for timber operations need to be revisited and revised until and unless the TMDL is revised as a consequence of expanded sediment loading assimilative capacity resulting from watershed recovery efforts.

EPIC has filed a challenge with the State Water Board of the sediment pollution discharge permit issued to Humboldt Redwood Company by the Regional Water Board. However, this challenge has been in a holding pattern in anticipation of the State Board’s decision on the TMDL and Action Plan. Now, EPIC will work to monitor and engage in the Regional Board’s mandated-revisit for both Humboldt Redwood Company and Green Diamond Resource Company’s sediment pollution discharge permits in the Upper Elk River watershed.

Holding the line for water, fish, forests and people, EPIC gets results.