Will HRC Ever Give Elk River A Rest?

By
Monday, December 3rd, 2018

600,000 cubic yards of sediment. That’s how much dirt is estimated to still be clogging up the Elk River, and that’s just in the so-called, “Impacted Reach” between the confluence of the North and South Fork and downstream to Berta Road. Oh, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board has designated that the Elk River is suffering from a “Nusiance,” condition, aka, wildly excessive rates and frequencies of overbank flooding that continues to endanger the ingress, egress, health, safety and livelihoods of Upper Elk River residents. To this day, HRC continues to truck water to Upper Elk River residents because the water in the river itself is so inundated with fine sediment and silt it has become unusable and undrinkable. Furthermore, Elk River is Humboldt Bay’s largest tributary and once served as high-quality habitat for steelhead, Chinook and Coho Salmon and listed as the highest priority for recovery and restoration efforts within the Coho Recovery Plan.

In April of 2016, the Regional Water Board finally adopted a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Upper Elk River to address the overwhelming sediment impairment caused by upstream industrial logging, particularly second-cycle logging of the 1980’s and 1990’s conducted by the Pacific Lumber Company under ownership of the MAXXAM Corporation. However, HRC’s logging over the last decade isn’t making things better; in fact, the Upper Elk River Sediment Analysis (Tetra Tech 2015), clearly demonstrated that sediment impairment conditions are worsening, not improving, and that the conditions in Elk River continue to deteriorate.

The Regional Water Board’s TMDL sets the “load allocation” (the amount of additional anthropogenic sediment inputs legally allowed) at “zero,” meaning that the Elk River’s capacity to assimilate more human-caused sediment has been overwhelmed. The Regional Board, however, continues to permit timber harvesting that is resulting in sediment inputs into the Upper Elk River watershed for HRC, and for the other large industrial timberland owner in the upper watershed, Green Diamond Resource Company. The “zero,” the Regional Board argues, is not physically possible to attain, even in the absence of new logging, so it might as well permit further logging as an incentive to the companies to fix ailing sores and road facilities on the landscape. And so, the “zero load allocation” for new logging-caused sediment inputs isn’t translating into zero logging-related sediment inputs, as both HRC and Green Diamond proceed with timber operations in the Upper Elk River Watershed.

Right after Thanksgiving, HRC filed a new THP for Elk River, located in the Lower South Fork of Elk River, directly adjacent to the river and the Headwaters Forest Reserve and the South Fork Elk River Trail in the Headwaters Forest Reserve. The Lower South Fork of Elk River sub-watershed has been designated in the Regional Water Board’s TMDL and in HRC’s currently-deficient Watershed-Wide Waste Discharge Requirement (WWDR) for the Upper Elk River as a “High-Risk Sub-Watershed,” for having sensitive geology and a high-risk of exacerbating and accelerating sediment inputs in association with logging activities.

THP 1-18-167HUM, “The Pond” covers nearly 300 acres of timber harvesting along the South Fork of Elk River and directly adjacent to the boundary with the Headwaters Forest Reserve. While HRC does not employ clearcutting, it is still physically impossible for the company to conduct industrial-scale timber operations and not result in additional new sediment inputs to the South Fork Elk River.

HRC is currently operating under a WWDR for the Upper Elk River that is in great dispute, and for which EPIC still has a Petition for Review before the California State Water Board, challenging the adequacy of the contents of the WWDR as well as the inappropriate procedural means by which it was adopted in August, 2016. Two other petitions from other conservation interests are also before the State Water Board disputing the adoption of the current HRC WWDR. As of the date of this writing, we do not have a full accounting of the acres of timber harvest enrolled under this disputed framework.

On August 1, 2017, the State Water Board ratified the Upper Elk River Sediment TMDL and directed the Regional Water Board to go back and revisit and revise WWDRs for both HRC and Green Diamond in the Upper Elk River by January, 2019. The Regional Board has to-date taken no action and will almost certainly miss this deadline.

HRC has argued that it cannot forego logging in the Upper Elk River Watershed due to the company’s financial constraints, and has warned that if the Regional Board moves to prohibit logging for any period of time, that this will trigger an inability on the part of HRC to fix current and legacy landscape issues causing further sediment inputs to bleed into the Upper Elk River system.

EPIC has been watching and working for Elk River for over 25 years, and will continue to press HRC, Green Diamond, and the Regional and State Water Boards to do the right thing, clean up the mess, and turn of the taps of new and additional preventable logging-caused sediment inputs into the Upper Elk River system.