Monday, April 25, 2011

Promoting “voluntary compliance” - The Scott Valley Establishment targets water board members

Bryan McFadden, who works for the North Coast Water Quality Control Board, has been assigned the task of implementing the plan to clean up sediment and temperature pollution in the Scott River Watershed – a major Klamath River tributary. That Plan was adopted by the North Coast Board on January 21, 2006. The Scott River Sediment and Temperature TMDL and Clean-Up Plan identifies the causes of sediment and temperature pollution and what needs to be done to reduce the pollution in order to restore beneficial uses of Scott River water as guaranteed by the Clean Water Act. Those beneficial uses include cold water fisheries, including salmon, steelhead and resident trout.

Timber companies and other landowners who log are now required to maintain shade along streams, develop erosion control plans and comply with waste discharge requirements. While road, landslide and riparian management problems remain, the four large timber companies operating in the Scott Sub-Basin  are moving to satisfy at least the letter of compliance with the Plan. Road management in particular has continued to improve.

A timber company logging road in Scott Valley left open all winter long

Environmental and recreation interests want farmers and ranchers to also be required to retain shade on streams running through their property and to stop livestock from trampling streambanks and defecating in streambeds. Native, sport and commercial fishermen want farmers and ranchers to limit water use in order to keep stream temperature from becoming lethal to salmon and other fish.

So far, however, the North Coast Board has refused to put teeth behind the Clean-Up Plan’s requirements and prohibitions. Instead, on August 9, 2006 the Board adopted a “waiver of waste discharge requirements” for Scott River Basin agriculture.

The Scott Ag Waiver embraces the concept of voluntary compliance (sic) and is implemented through Ag-friendly groups like the Siskiyou RCD and Scott River Watershed Council. That has been the approach for the past four plus years. The waiver has a five year term and sunsets in August. The North Coast Board must either renew the waiver or take other regulatory action with respect to Scott River Basin agricultural operations. And while there has been no systematic evaluation to determine whether voluntary compliance is working, it appears that McFadden and his supervisors are prepared to continue to back the approach favored by the Scott Valley Establishment.

At the urging of Scott Valley agricultural and other leaders, McFadden organized two meetings in the Scott Valley last week. They were designed to convince members of the North Coast Water Quality Board that voluntary compliance is working and therefore that a new waiver should be granted. One North Coast Board member attended as did KlamBlog. So did several members of the local Scott Valley Tea Party which is also known as Protect Our Waters or POW. POW appears to be against clean water regulation as a matter of principle; several T Party speakers challenged the right of government to regulate private property in any manner.

KlamBlog reports on the two workshops below - including how the Scott Valley Establishment tried to persuade North Coast board members that voluntary compliance is working.

 The Scott Valley Tea Party Protests Water Quality Regulation and the UN

Day 1: Scott Valley Groundwater Study

On Wednesday April 20th, Dr Thomas Harter of the University of California Extension provided an update on the groundwater model he and his UC Davis students are developing. The model is required by the Scott Clean-Up Plan in order to understand the impact of groundwater pumping on stream flow and stream temperature. Flow and temperature are related – more flow usually lowers stream water temperature; less flow typically results in higher stream water temperature.

Currently the US Forest Service does not receive the adjudicated in-stream flows in the Scott River below Scott Valley to which it has a right even in years of average precipitation and snow pack. Those flows were established to sustain Scott River fisheries.  A recent peer reviewed scientific study found that more than half the loss of Scott River flow in recent decades cannot be explained by changes in precipitation and snowpack and are most likely related to a doubling in irrigation pumping from groundwater in the Scott River Valley since 1960. If done properly, the groundwater model should help quantify the impact increased groundwater pumping has had on Scott River stream temperature. It will also be useful in modeling the changes in stream temperature which would occur if measures are taken to increase Scott River flows.

Dr. Harter’s study has been delayed which suits Scott Valley Ag folks. Delay is a tactic which has proven effective for agricultural interests in their nation-wide quest to avoiding complying with clean water laws. It is a prime reason why agricultural pollution is now (along with urban run-off) the #1 source of pollution in most US rivers and their estuaries nearly 35 years after the Clean Water Act became the law of the land.

While the groundwater study is not complete, Dr. Harter and his students have made several interesting discoveries. One is that groundwater flow in the Scott River Valley is toward the River – in particular from the mountains to the west. Another is that there are sections of Scott River which still gain water from groundwater springs while many other sections loose water to groundwater.

Harter also found that groundwater flow in the vicinity of the River is parallel to the River and runs downstream. This is significant in that, under California law, “underground streams” are considered to be surface water and therefore can be regulated whereas groundwater not running in an underground stream is not subject to state regulation.

Was the boundary of the underground stream running along with Scott River properly delineated during the Scott River Adjudication? Even cursory study of the Adjudication maps suggests that the boundary line was politically rather than scientifically drawn. For example, at its widest the zone of interconnected groundwater is ¼ mile on each side of Scott River. However, at times the line is right on the River’s bank. Furthermore, the line dips toward the River to exclude certain irrigation wells and away from the River to include certain other irrigation wells.

While evidence is mounting that the interconnected groundwater boundary in the Scott Adjudication was improperly drawn, information from Harter’s modeling, however, like previous USGS reports, confirms that groundwater in the Scott Valley is broadly connected to surface flow. That means groundwater pumping anywhere in Scott Valley can diminish streamflow if enough water is removed and the groundwater level drops below the streambed’s level.  The Harter-UC Extension study should help better define the interconnection of River and groundwater and thereby help determine the impact of groundwater pumping on Scott River flow and temperature.   

Day 2:  Showcasing the good guys

The second day’s workshop was devoted to showcasing good stewardship as practiced in the Scott River Valley. Several ranchers made PowerPoint presentations showing what they have done to reduce the impact of their operations on fisheries and water quality. Two of the family ranches located along Scott River invited interested folks to come out and see what has been done first hand; one ranch is applying for "Salmon Safe" certification. While much of the showcased stewardship work was funded by the government, some farmers have done good stewardship work on their own without outside assistance. It was clear from the presentations that there are a number of farmers and ranchers in the Scott River Valley who really do care about water quality and beneficial uses, want to do the right thing. These folks devote considerable thought and energy toward real stewardship.

Also presenting were folks working with the timber industry to reduce road sediment and county officials who are updating the Siskiyou County development manual to address grading issues. Staff of the Siskiyou RCD presented their work as did the Siskiyou Water Trust which leases water from irrigators to provide flows for Coho. Some fish advocates oppose leasing water to mitigate low flows and stream dewatering because the fish already have a right to the water they need.

Missing from the presentations was any discussion of those agricultural management practices common in the Scott Valley which contribute to sedimentation, low flows and high Scott River water temperature. Nor was there anything said about how the RCD and Watershed Council hope to persuade those who are clearly not good land stewards to “voluntarily” comply with the Scott Clean-up Plan. How will those who plow right down to the stream, for example, be convinced to voluntarily move back and establish riparian shade?

Removing riparian vegetation and plowing right down to the streambank is a common practice in the Scott River Valley which contributes to abnormally high water temperature and excessive sedimentation 

Unmentioned also were irrigation ditches run full all year, feeding cattle and piling their manure right next to live streams and allowing cattle to trample streambanks. It was as if the poor management so blatantly evident just a mile or so from the Fort Jones meeting location did not exist!

KlamBlog has documented these problems in previous posts and we documented more in a recent trip to the Scott which will appear in a future post. We will continue to present these problems so that they cannot be ignored. And we will continue to ask the Scott Valley Establishment and the North Coast Board staff to explain just how they intend to get those who vehemently refuse to take any responsibility for maintaining water quality to voluntarily comply with the Scott River Clean-Up Plan, that is, with the LAW.  


Anonymous said...

Felice, you never recognize the significant errata in Van Kirk's study. The Journal of the American Water Resources Association states: "After acceptance of the manuscript, the authors were made aware of and provided with additional data that we did not have during preparation of the manuscript. This prompted us to review our original data, and we discovered some data we had misplaced and unintentionally omitted from Figure 7...Addition of the new data shows that irrigated acreage has not increased between historic and modern periods. Therefore, increase in irrigated acreage does not appear to be a possible factor in explaining why the response of the Scott River watershed to climatic trends differs from that of the other four study watershed."

Also, The U.S. Forest Service has a quantified right to instream flows for minimum level fishery subsistence and use by wildlife within the Klamath National Forest. The USFS also has an additional quantified right to instream flows for incremental fish flows, recreational, scenic and aesthetic purposes. These rights are of a first priority basis, correlative to other first priority rights included in the section beginning at the USGS gaging station at Fort Jones and in specified amounts on specified tributaries. Although all rights to "surplus waters" in all section are junior to the USFS rights, the USFS instream rights have no relation to non-surplus rights in other sections and non-specified independently adjudicated tributaries.

Catherine Kuhlman said...

Thank you for your input on Scott River TMDL implementation. We will consider your input as we consider the next steps regarding the waiver. As I communicated to you previously, we have not decided what our next step will be with the Scott waiver. Contrary to your blog posting, we are not “back(ing) the approach favored by the Scott Valley Establishment”. In the meantime, I want to correct some facts for the record.

You have stated that last week’s meetings were designed to convince Regional Water Board members that voluntary compliance is working and the waiver should be renewed, and that the meeting was held at the urging of Scott Valley agricultural and other leaders. This is incorrect on a number of points. As we have previously stated, last week's meeting on the waiver was to substitute for a written report from the discharger community on their progress under the waiver. It was wholly our idea, nobody urged us to have the meetings. Furthermore, I am not aware of any contact between the board members and representatives of the Scott River Watershed Council about the meetings prior to the meetings. Finally, “voluntary compliance” is not a term we use. Compliance is not voluntary under the law; however, compliance may be achieved through self-directed efforts. The Scott TMDL Action Plan relies on a self-directed approach to compliance, which is not the same as voluntary.

You continue to state that we have “delegated (TMDL) implementation” to the Scott River Watershed Council and Siskiyou RCD, despite the fact that we have been clear that is not the case. Our staff continue to regulate timber harvest plans, work with responsible parties to address forest roads outside of THPs, process and enforce permits, take enforcement actions, and administer grants to achieve the goals of the TMDL. We will also continue to work with community groups and other willing partners to implement water quality restoration.

Catherine Kuhlman
Executive Officer