[env-trinity] (no subject)

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Fri Jun 25 10:37:35 PDT 2010


 

PACIFIC COAST FEDERATION OF FISHERMEN’S ASSOCIATIONS (PCFFA), ENVIRONMENTAL
LAW FOUNDATION (ELF), and the INSTITUTE FOR FISHERIES RESOURCES (IFR)

For immediate release
Date: June 24, 2010

 
10:00 AM

Press Contacts:

 

Glen Spain (PCFFA) (541)689-2000

Jim Wheaton (ELF) (510)208-4555

Jennifer Maier (ELF) (510)208-4555

 

FISHING AND CONSERVATION GROUPS SUE OVER POOR WATER MANAGEMENT ON NORTHERN
CALIFORNIA’S SCOTT RIVER

 

The State and County have allowed groundwater depletion and damage to 

ESA-listed coho runs in violation of the Public Trust.

 

     Sacramento, CA  -- On June 24th, the west coast’s largest trade
association of commercial fishing families, the Pacific Coast Federation of
Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), teamed up with the California conservation
organization Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) to jointly file a landmark
lawsuit against the California State Water Resources Control Board (“Water
Board”) and Siskiyou County for their joint failure to leave enough water in
the river to protect endangered and threatened salmon in Northern
California’s Scott River.  

 

     The case (Environmental Law Foundation, et al. vs. State Water
Resources Control Board and Siskiyou County, filed in the Superior Court of
Sacramento County) alleges widespread violations of the Public Trust
Doctrine, resulting from years of rubber-stamp Water Board and County
approvals of well permits that have seriously depleted the local aquifer,
creating severe water depletion of Northern California’s Scott River, once
an important salmon-bearing tributary to the Klamath River and still the
home of federally and state protected Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed
coho salmon.

 

     “Scott River water depletion has gotten so bad that today coho salmon
are on the verge of extinction there, once one of their major refuges,”
noted Glen Spain, PCFFA Northwest Regional Director.  “All the while, the
state’s water agencies have been looking the other way and doing little to
stop it.  But rivers and their fish are public resources, and public
agencies are obligated to protect them, not deplete them.”

 

     The Public Trust Doctrine, which goes all the way back to the laws of
the Roman Emperor Justinian issued in 535 A.C.E, requires the waters of the
State (and its aquatic wildlife) to be held in public trust for the common
good, and therefore to be protected by the State against depletion or damage
by private interests.

 

     The California Supreme Court recognized that the Public Trust Doctrine
applies to water management in California rivers in the landmark 1983 “Mono
Lake Case” (National Audubon Society vs. Superior Court, 33 Cal.3d 419
(1983)) but has not yet ruled on how this Doctrine would apply to
groundwater depletion that in turn affects nearby river flows.  

 

     This case is likely to set new legal precedent on this key water issue
at a time when many of California’s aquifers are suffering widespread
depletion, drying up many aquifer-fed streams.  Yet California is one of
only two US states (the other being Texas) that does not manage its own
groundwater, leaving groundwater management entirely to the Counties
instead, who have neither the expertise nor the political will to develop or
enforce aquifer drawdown limits.  Many of California’s aquifers also span
multiple counties. 

 

     Groundwater aquifers in the Scott Valley have been increasingly
depleted by well permits issued by the County, and low water aquifers reduce
the flows from springs that feed cold groundwater into the river itself.
Depleted aquifers mean a depleted river where fish now die by the droves
nearly every year.  But the County continues to give out new well permits
anyway.

 

     State law, however, acknowledges the connection between surface water
flows and groundwater aquifers in the Scott sub-basin and provides for state
regulation of Scott River “groundwater supplies which are interconnected
with the Scott River” at Cal. Fish & Game Code Sec. 2500.5.  However, the
State Water Board has not used that authority in more than 30 years.

 

     Coho salmon inhabiting the Scott River have so diminished in numbers in
recent years that they have been protected as “threatened with extinction”
under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16 U.S.C. § 1531, et seq.)
since May 6, 1997 (62 Fed Reg. 24,588).  Scott River coho salmon have also
been protected since August 30, 2002 under the California Endangered Species
Act (CESA) (Cal. Fish & Game Code § 2050, et seq.).  The Scott River has
also been federally listed under the ESA as “critical habitat” for
ESA-listed coho salmon since May 5, 1999 (64 Fed. Reg. 24,049).  The
California Fish and Game Commission also adopted a Recovery Strategy for
California Coho Salmon on February 4, 2004 which contains numerous measures
to protect coho salmon in the Scott River basin.  

 

     Yet state and federally protected coho salmon are now down to
double-digit numbers in the Scott River, where they once sheltered in the
thousands.  Only 81 ESA-listed coho came back to that river in 2009,
according to California Department of Fish and Game fish surveys.  Most
biologists believe a population size of at least 500 is required to truly
prevent extinction.

 

    Chinook salmon and steelhead also spawn and rear within the Scott River,
and their numbers too are today greatly diminished from their historical
abundance, for the same reasons.  

 

 

     “The Public Trust ensures that our waters are protected for everyone,
not just those who can take it,” noted Jim Wheaton, with Environmental Law
Foundation.  “Where one person's take harms other uses and the public, the
Public Trust Doctrine requires the State to protect the public and future
generations.”

 

     “Unchecked groundwater pumping is bleeding this river literally dry,
driving formerly productive fish runs there to the edge of extinction, and
no one is being held accountable,” said Erica Terence of the Klamath
Riverkeeper group, which works on salmon conservation issues in the Scott
River.  “Siskiyou County and the State Water Board have an obligation to the
public to close this loophole in Scott River water balancing that allows hay
growers to take more than their fair share.”

 

   The Scott River is also vitally important to resident American Indian
Tribes who have ancestral lands in the Scott Basin.   “The quality and
quantity of Scott River water threatens the existing habitat of the
diminishing Scott River salmon runs,” noted Crystal Bowman, Environmental
Director for the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation, which is situated within
the Scott Valley.  “Although local resource agencies attempt to improve
these conditions through various programs, un-regulated groundwater pumping
greatly contributes to the unsuitable water quality conditions salmon in the
Scott River have to face.  Lowering the water table has negative impacts on
surface water depth, velocity, temperature, and connectivity. The health of
riparian vegetation and nearby environments are also negatively impacted,
which prevents the necessary pollutant load reductions from being realized
and reduces habitat for a plethora of terrestrial species. It is time to
acknowledge these basic ecological principles and coordinate surface and
groundwater use in Scott Valley so that the Scott River and its salmon runs
can recover before it's too late.”

 

     “As commercial fishing families, maintaining abundant salmon runs in
the Scott River is a bread and butter issue,” added PCFFA’s Glen Spain.
“Without the Scott River it will be very hard indeed to recover the
seriously damaged salmon runs from the Klamath River and bring these runs
back into their previous abundance.”

 

*****

 

For a copy of the Petition for a Writ of Mandate and a Fact Sheet on the
Public Trust Doctrine and how it applies in this case, see ELF’s Current
Case Docket at:

 

                               www.envirolaw.org/currentcases.html 

 

To find out more about the dewatering of the Scott River in 2009, see the
Klamath Riverkeeper web site at:  www.klamathriverkeeper.org/tribs/SOSS.html


 

####

--30--

 

 

Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land/fax

415 519 4810 mobile

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
(secondary)

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 

 

 

 

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