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U.S. EPA SETTLES NORTH COAST RIVERS LAWSUIT, ADDRESSES POLLUTION
Release Date: 3/7/1997
Contact Information: Dave Schmidt, U.S. EPA (415) 744-1578
(San Francisco) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California today filed an agreement in federal district court to settle a lawsuit with 14 environmental and fishing industry groups concerning pollution problems in 17 river basins on California's north coast. In the settlement, U.S. EPA has made a legal commitment guaranteeing that Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), which identify pollution reduction targets, will be established for 18 river basins by the year 2007 by U.S. EPA or the State of California.
"We share the environmental and fishing groups' goal of protecting California's North Coast Rivers, which provide habitat for the threatened coho salmon and a host of other fish and wildlife species," said Alexis Strauss, director of U.S. EPA's regional water division. "We're pleased to have an agreement that allows us a reasonable timeframe to work with the local communities to accomplish this."
The TMDL process, under the federal Clean Water Act, provides a method for assessing the environmental problems in a watershed and identifying pollution reductions needed to protect drinking water, aquatic life, recreation, and other uses of rivers, lakes, and streams. The law gives state governments primary responsibility for establishing TMDLs, though U.S. EPA can also develop them. The State of California, which was not a party to the lawsuit, has already made a commitment to establish TMDLs for approximately half the 18 river basins covered by the agreement by 2007. Under the agreement, U.S. EPA will develop TMDLs for the remaining basins, and has also agreed to complete all the TMDLs if the State fails to complete theirs within the agreement's timeframe. The agreement also provides for the establishment of a minimum number of TMDLs each year through 2007.
U.S. Attorney Michael Yamaguchi said, "This agreement represents the kind of governmental and community cooperation needed to solve tough environmental issues, and we are very pleased with this result."
Since most of the landscape of the north coast watersheds is forested, U.S. EPA plans to work with timberland owners and local watershed stakeholders in many basins to pursue TMDL development in conjunction with Sustained Yield Plans (which are required by the state for holders of over 50,000 acres of timberland), Habitat Conservation Plans for endangered and threatened species such as the coho salmon, or other locally developed watershed management plans. TMDLs are needed on the 18 north coast watersheds listed in the agreement because existing pollution controls have not been sufficient to curb excessive sediment loads on rivers and streams in these watersheds. Excessive sediment loads can ruin spawning or rearing habitat for fish, and make water unfit for drinking.
A TMDL includes a quantitative assessment of water quality problems, pollution sources, and pollution reductions needed to restore and protect a river, stream, or lake. TMDLs may address all pollution sources, including point sources such as sewage or industrial plant discharges, non-point sources, such as runoff from roads, farm fields, and forests, and naturally occurring sources, such as runoff from undisturbed lands. A Total Maximum Daily Load, as the name implies, is the sum of pollutants a waterway can absorb from all these sources, plus a margin of safety, and still meet water quality standards for designated uses such as drinking water, aquatic life, and recreation. A TMDL provides a holistic view of a watershed, measuring the effect of each pollution source on the entire system. It also provides a framework for identifying specific actions needed to reach water quality standards.
The 18 north coast watersheds covered by the agreement are the Garcia River, Redwood Creek, Noyo River, Navarro River, Big River, Gualala River, Lower Klamath River, Upper Klamath River, Mattole River, Scott River, Shasta River, Albion River, Eel River, Mad River, Van Duzen River, Trinity River, South Fork Trinity River, and Ten Mile River.
The 14 plaintiffs involved in the settlement are the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Golden Gate Fishermen's Association, Sierra Club, Environmental Protection Information Center, Coast Action Group, Friends of the Garcia, California Trout, Klamath Forest Alliance, Mendocino Environmental Center, Willits Environmental Center, California Wilderness Coalition, Friends of the Navarro, South Fork Mountain Defense Committee, and Northcoast Environmental Center.
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