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Wild and harnessed, Eel River a vital, troubled North Coast watershed 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The dispute [over Eel River water] will be aired this summer when the Sonoma County Water Agency releases an environmental report on proposed changes to a decision by state water regulators who 30 years ago established the minimum streamflow requirements on the Russian River. The water agency intends to hold workshops and public hearings on the report.

The roar of water cascading over a 109-year-old concrete dam on the Eel River in Mendocino County was music to Janet Pauli.
“It should be a welcome sound for everybody on the North Coast,” said the longtime Potter Valley rancher, watching the river run down a remote canyon in the Coast Range, bound for the Pacific Ocean far away near Eureka.
Twelve miles the other way, the gates atop another dam had closed a week ago, and the Lake Pillsbury reservoir was filling fast with runoff from early spring rains, offering strong hope of a normal season after four years of drought for the multitude of people who depend on the Eel River for necessities and revelries, including water, wine grapes and stalking wild steelhead trout.
That group includes the 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties who get their drinking water from the Sonoma County Water Agency, ranchers and residents on the upper Russian River, and people along the Eel River as it courses nearly 200 miles through Mendocino and Humboldt counties, passing through nearly untouched wilderness, giant redwood forests, small towns, popular parks and attractions like the Benbow Inn near Garberville before it flattens in the coastal plain approaching the coast.
Most have no idea how these two dams and a mile-long tunnel through a mountain move about 20 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel River into the Russian River, crossing a geographically narrow but politically wide gap and inciting the North Coast’s version of California’s age-old water wars.
“It’s our chapter of western water (conflict),” said David Keller of Petaluma, a leader of the group that has tried for more than two decades to halt the diversion of Eel River water that has gone on for nearly a century. The dams, diversion tunnel and a powerhouse are known as the Potter Valley Project, operated by PG&E.
Read more at: Wild and harnessed, Eel River a vital, troubled North Coast watershed | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , , , Leave a comment on Study shows pot is sucking the Eel River dry

Study shows pot is sucking the Eel River dry

Linda Williams, WILLITS NEWS
California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Study
Researchers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife published a study in March on the impacts of marijuana growing on several Eel River segments including the Little Lake Valley’s Outlet Creek.
The researchers concluded pot growing has become so prolific in this region it is literally sucking the streams dry. The study found the quantity of unregistered water abuse was many times the registered water use in the areas studied.
Unlike regulated forms of agricultural, livestock, home and municipal diversions, the clandestine nature of Emerald Triangle marijuana cultivation means that growers have been free to drain the Eel River with few controls in place to prevent it.
Water hungry marijuana plants need maximum watering just as California’s Mediterranean climate enters its dry period and normal flows in area streams drop naturally.
By regulation, the Brooktrails and Willits water reservoirs, located on tributaries of Outlet Creek, can only store water for human use during the wet season, allowing all dry weather flows to pass through the dams to benefit the fish. For much of the last 10 years it appears these water releases have gone, instead, to support marijuana operations.
Read more via Study shows pot is sucking the Eel River dry.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Transportation, WaterTags , Leave a comment on Court to review North Coast Railroad exemption from environmental review

Court to review North Coast Railroad exemption from environmental review

Patty Clary, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics

Scott Greacen, Friends of the Eel River

The state’s highest court on Wednesday agreed to review an appeal of a lower court’s decision that would exempt publicly owned railroads from having to comply with California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

An appellate court had found that the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act pre-empted all state laws managing or governing railroads, including CEQA. But the case—brought by Friends of the Eel River (FOER) and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs)—concerns California’s state-owned railroad, the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), which meant California would be forbidden to control the railroad it had bought and paid for with public funds.

A different court of appeals reached the opposite conclusion in a case involving California’s High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA). That court found that where the state is acting as an owner, not a regulator, federal preemption does not shield the state-owned rail line from having to comply with CEQA as a condition of its state funding.

The North Coast Rail Authority cases present substantially identical facts. The plaintiff environmental groups had argued that the split between the courts of appeals should move the Supreme Court to take the case, as it has now done.

CATs and FOER had challenged the NCRA’s 2011 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on its plan to reopen a southern portion of the failed rail line. Once sued, NCRA claimed it was not legally bound to conduct the study – after spending millions of taxpayer dollars on the EIR, and tens of millions more provided by the state on the condition the project complied with CEQA.

 “Like any other actor in the marketplace, California has the right to analyze the cost and effect of its plans before deciding to undertake projects and it chooses to do this through the CEQA process,” said Patty Clary, Executive Director of CATs. “Federal law does not interfere with this right nor with California citizens’ right, as provided by state law, to challenge the adequacy of this environmental review. We look forward to arguing these fundamental issues before California’s Supreme Court.”

Scott Greacen, Executive Director of FOER, welcomed the news. “Fundamentally, our system of justice depends on citizens being able to hold our government accountable. It cannot be correct that we will allow state agencies to renege on their promises, and to fly blind with the public’s money and the public’s property, without regard to the potential risks to public trust treasures like the wild and scenic Eel River and its threatened salmon and steelhead.”

Californians for Alternatives to Toxics is represented by East Bay attorney Sharon Duggan, Helen Kang of the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic of the Golden Gate University School of Law, William Verick of the Klamath Environmental Law Center, and Deborah Sivas of the Environmental Law Clinic, Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School. Friends of the Eel River are represented by Amy Bricker, Edward T. Schexnayder, and Ellison Folk of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger.

CATs and FOER are based in the Humboldt Bay area. The membership of each organization is from throughout northwestern California.

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Beautiful river, growing thirst: Looming battle over Eel River diversion to Russian River

Beautiful river, growing thirst: Looming battle over Eel River diversion to Russian River

Susan Sward, SACRAMENTO BEE

In the third-largest watershed in California, the Eel River rambles through some of the state’s most stunning landscape. Nothing about the river, with its clusters of redwoods along its sandy banks, hints at the looming battle over its blue-green water.

In about three years, though, a federal commission will begin reviewing an application by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to re-license its Potter Valley Project. The project includes a mile-long tunnel that began diverting Eel water to the Russian River more than a hundred years ago.

That Eel water becomes part of the Russian River flow now relied upon by 650,000 people in Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties and by farmers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties who irrigate millions of dollars’ worth of crops. Water users say the diversion project is vital for them. Environmental groups, however, want the project’s two dams removed to restore access to many miles of prime fish-spawning territory on the upper Eel, saying the project’s presence undermines recovery of fish in the river.

This license review follows more than a century of harm – including extensive timber harvesting, the Potter Valley Project dams and destruction of an estuary that functioned as a nursery for juvenile salmon. This has imperiled the river’s fish: The National Marine Fisheries Service has classified coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead in the Eel as threatened.

via Beautiful river, growing thirst, looming battle over the Eel River – California Forum – The Sacramento Bee.

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on State issues new water curtailment orders, plans swifter crackdown on diversions

State issues new water curtailment orders, plans swifter crackdown on diversions

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

..State officials said the new regulations were necessary because nearly 70 percent of the 7,910 curtailment orders already issued statewide in the past two months have been ignored.

State officials on Wednesday issued new water curtailment orders to thousands of users and adopted emergency regulations that allow them to more quickly crack down on people who ignore orders to stop diverting water from drought-stricken rivers and streams, including the upper Russian River.

“Water rights holders who fail to comply with the regulations face immediate fines or administrative actions,” state Water Resources Control Board officials said in a news release.

The action, which included the approval of fines for noncompliant users, came on the second day of board discussion about drought-driven regulations.

During the public hearing the day before, some water users voiced strong objection to the new regulations, particularly measures that allow the state to fine noncompliant users up to $500 a day without a hearing. Those cited can ask for a hearing after they’re fined.

via State issues new water curtailment orders, plans swifter crackdown on diversions | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, TransportationTags Leave a comment on NCRA proposes to drop environmental review for rail operations

NCRA proposes to drop environmental review for rail operations

Friends of the Eel River
After six attempts to avoid defending an environmental report in state court, the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) is preparing to withdraw approval of its rail project at its April 10 meeting in Eureka.
The move appears to be a last-ditch effort to avoid a May 8 trial over whether the analysis complies with California environmental law. Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) and Friends of the Eel River (FOER) sued to demand the NCRA provide an accurate accounting of harm to the environment.
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