Regional Water Board Adopts Cutting-Edge Water Quality Protections

Regional Water Board Adopts Cutting-Edge Water Quality Protections

May 9, 2006

For more information, please contact: Larry Evans, EPIC, 707-476-8340

Santa Rosa, CA — In a long-overdue decision, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) adopted Watershed-Wide Waste Discharge Requirements (WWWDRs) for the Pacific Lumber Company (PL) in the Elk River and Freshwater Creek watersheds of Humboldt County. The WWWDRs are designed to control sediment pollution from logging operations in the drainages, which have resulted in severe nuisance flooding over the past 15 years. EPIC Executive Director Larry Evans characterized the decision as a first step in achieving recovery for the watersheds. “After two decades of PL dumping its costs of doing business onto the public and public trust resources, it was high time for the agency to act,” he stated. “This approach represents the state of the art in watershed protection with empirical limits on sediment and peak-flow discharges from logging. These are significant policy wins, even if the on-the-ground implication is less than was warranted.”

Elk River and Freshwater Creek, which spill into Humboldt Bay on either side of Eureka, have become filled with sediment, reducing channel capacity by up to 65 percent. Both are designated as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act by the EPA. In addition to the frequent and persistent flooding suffered by neighbors of the infamous timber giant, destruction of wells and domestic water supplies as well as damage to cars, homes and farms has been the result of the irresponsible management practices. Salmon and steelhead, including species listed under state and federal endangered species laws, have been harmed as well.

This decision caps a nearly nine-year odyssey to obtain relief by residents and conservationists, including numerous public hearings and exhaustive scientific studies in the face of persistent obstruction tactics by the company seeking to maintain extremely high logging levels.

Area residents were disappointed in the ruling, which amended Regional Water Board staff recommendations by allowing increased potential acreage limits. However, the increased acreages were offset by a zero discharge standard for “sediment discharge above 125 percent of background level of sediment load” according to the approved Board resolutions. This standard means that absolutely no additional sediments may be delivered into the creeks without an enforceable monitoring program approved by the Regional Water Board Executive Officer. According to Evans, “After waiting nine long years for even these minimal controls on PL pollution, we are determined to achieve the recovery mandated by state and federal water quality laws.”

Among the other provisions of the Regional Water Board rulings is an endorsement of action by staff to enforce existing Cleanup and Abatement Orders (CAO). Some of the CAOs currently issued to PL are delinquent and fines of $1000 per day could be levied. PL’s potential liability could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for these delinquent orders.