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Encourage ONRW status for North Coast rivers

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Board) is a state agency charged with protecting the quality of water in northwest region of California under the federal Clean Water Act and state laws. As part of its climate change initiatives, Board staff are recommending evaluation of two key tributaries of the South Fork Eel River as Outstanding National Resource Waters (Outstanding Waters) under the Clean Water Act. If approved by the Board, the potential designation would be included as part of the Triennial Update of the North Coast Basin Plan. The recommendation will be considered by the Board at its June 13-14 meeting in Santa Rosa. Public comments in support of Outstanding Waters designation are needed.

 

Federal and state water pollution laws are based on allowing acceptable pollution levels considered safe for human and ecosystem health. But Outstanding Waters in the Clean Water Act are provided the highest level of water quality protection – where no permanent degradation of water quality is permitted. An Outstanding Water designation does not affect existing activities such as farming, ranching, fishing, or boating, provided such uses do not diminish water quality below current levels. 

 

The Board staff recommendation is in response to a proposal developed by CalWild, CalTrout, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Trout Unlimited to designate as Outstanding Waters two nearly pristine tributaries of the South Fork Eel – Elder and Cedar Creeks. Both tributaries are critical sources of high-quality cold water to the South Fork Eel and its threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead and they both also provide important spawning and holding habitat for these at-risk fish.

 

Currently, the only designated Outstanding Waters in California are Lake Tahoe and Mono Lake. CalWild and its allies want to expand this protective designation to deserving streams and other water bodies throughout the state and believe that Elder and Cedar Creeks are ideal candidates to initiate this effort.

 

Elder Creek begins on Cahto Peak in the South Fork Eel Wilderness, flowing through BLM lands and then state lands managed by UC Berkeley as part of the Angelo Coast Range Reserve, to its confluence with the South Fork. Elder Creek flows through one of the largest continuous tracts of undeveloped coastal conifer forest remaining in California. The creek was determined eligible and suitable for National Wild and Scenic River protection by the BLM due to its outstanding scenery, fish, and ecology values, as well as for its scientific research opportunities.

 

Cedar Creek rises from the flanks of Red Mountain in the northern portion of the South Fork Eel Wilderness, flowing through BLM lands and state lands managed by the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife in the Little Red Mountain Ecological Reserve. The sponge-like serpentine geology of this area not only supports numerous rare plants, it also provides crucial recharge of fresh cold water to the South Fork Eel. The creek was determined eligible and suitable for National Wild and Scenic River protection by the BLM due to its outstanding scenery, fish, geology, and ecology values.

 

Public comments via email to the Board in support of Outstanding Waters designation of Elder and Cedar Creeks are needed prior to the Board’s June 13-14, 2024 meeting. To be included in the meeting record, public comments on agenda items are due Monday, June 10. The email address is NorthCoast@waterboards.ca.gov.

 

Be sure to include the following points in your email:

  • Urge the Board to support designation of Elder and Cedar Creeks as Outstanding Waters in the Triennial Basin Plan Update
  • Briefly mention the outstanding values of Elder and Cedar Creek, which are summarized in this alert.
  • Note that Outstanding Waters designation will help ensure that Elder and Cedar Creeks will be managed so that they can continue to provide high summertime base flows of cold water to support the South Fork Eel’s at-risk salmon and steelhead in response to climate change.

 

For more information or if you have any questions about this alert, please contact Steve Evans, CalWild Rivers Director, email: sevans@calwild.org, phone: (916) 708-3155.