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Lawsuit Aims to Protect Northern California Salmon Habitat

Published on February 18, 2009 in Salmonid/Wildlife Impacts and Streams and Wetlands. Colin Sullivan, Greenwire PM DC February 4, 2009
There was an earlier suit in the 1990s that forced 17 rivers(?) in California to be listed [(303(d)]as impaired under the Porter Cologne/Clean Water Act. This is why the Scott and the Shasta had TMDLs done and resource use limitations are now being imposed under action plans. Several other rivers had TMDLs and some have not yet gotten to that point. The most recent suit, as I understand it, is to make sure that TMDLs and Implementing Action Plans are imposed on the remaining rivers.

"In 1996, the Coast Action Group and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund launched a suit against the U.S. EPA and the SWRCB to force action on these impaired water bodies. The agencies settled out of court and agreed to a schedule for clean up and abatement of the identified water quality problems. The TMDL plan has been formulated for the Garcia River (U.S. EPA, 1998) and other basins (Kramer et al., 2001; Matthews Assoc., 1999; 2000a; 2000b, 2001a; 2001b) and a number more are scheduled to follow ( TMDL Schedule). The Ninth Circuit Federal Court recently upheld the TMDL process in the Garcia River Basin ( Prosolino vs. Nastri, 2002), and land owners will now develop management plans in order to come into compliance over the span of a decade".

California Regional Water Quality Control Board (CRWQCB). 2002a. 2002 Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list of water quality limited segments. CRWQCB, San Francisco Bay Region. San Francisco, CA. 199 pp. [711k]

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Northern California Salmon Habitat

Published on February 18, 2009 in Salmonid/Wildlife Impacts and Streams and Wetlands.

Colin Sullivan, Greenwire PM DC February 4, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO ­ Environmental and fishing groups sued California today for allegedly ignoring laws aimed at guaranteeing clean water along the North Coast for endangered chinook salmon, coho salmon and steelhead trout.

The groups ­ led by the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations ­ filed suit in state Superior Court, saying state officials had failed to craft plans that protect water quality and provide habitat for the fish.

“Without such plans, water quality in North Coast rivers and streams will not meet the standards that the state is obligated to achieve,” Earthjustice attorney George Torgun said.

The suit challenges the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s application of the federal Clean Water Act’s Total Maximum Daily Load program related to removal of sediment in spawning streams and rivers. The groups say the TMDL program “has suffered from a history of inaction.”

Declining river conditions in the region, caused largely by development around the waterways, have resulted in fishing restrictions over the last few years, to include a complete shutdown of the salmon fishing season last year. The groups say the state board has failed to deal with its part of the problem ­ namely, debris discharge.

The agency, the suit charges, has not maintained a list of rivers and streams that do not meet the water quality standards. Nor has it set pollution limits for these sources, the groups claim.

A North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board spokesman refused to comment on the lawsuit, but he did cite the agency’s “sediment TMDL implementation policy,” which was passed in 2004. He said the board is working under this program to clean the rivers and streams and to ensure cold water for the fish.


Over the past few decades, human activities such as dam construction, water diversions, agriculture, logging, mining, and grazing have left many waterways in the North Coast region of California impaired by nutrients, sediment, high temperatures, and low dissolved oxygen levels. These conditions have resulted in serious environmental impacts, especially for native salmon and trout. In 1997, following an Earthjustice lawsuit, a coalition of public interest groups entered into an agreement with the EPA to establish Total Maximum Daily Loads ("TMDLs") for polluted rivers along the North Coast of California. However, it is the responsibility of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to develop plans for meeting the limits set by the TMDLs developed by the EPA. The Regional Board's failure to develop those plans means that these vulnerable waterways continue to suffer from poor water quality. 

On behalf of a coalition of fishing groups and environmental organizations, Earthjustice is suing the Regional Board over its failure to develop implementation plans to protect the rivers of the North Coast. http://www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/northcoast-tmdl.pdf

Environmental Protection Information Center

Friends of the Eel River

Friends of the Navarro River

Northcoast Environmental Center

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations

Sierra Club

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