Soil erosion decreases water quality
Sediment discharge permits could fund stream monitoring
by Kevin Collins
Soil erosion into local streams smothers salmon and steelhead
eggs and fills the pools in which juvenile salmon grow. Sediment
is regulated by law because it decreases water quality. During the
winter when most water agencies like to "rest" their wells to allow
for water table recharge, decreased stream quality reduces the amount
of surface water available for human use.
Regional Water Quality Control Boards are attempting to find a way
to regulate sediment discharge from logging operations and agriculture,
major sources of sediment in waterways. Although mandated by law
to do so, the Boards do not have sufficient staff for the job and
have yet to settle on an effective and accurate method of monitoring
for this type of pollution. Currently the Central Coast Board allocates
less than one staff person to this task and expects the logging
industry to essentially regulate itself by supplying information
about erosion problems at logging sites.
More than 30 years after the passage of the Federal Clean Water
Act, California is just beginning to take on the task of controlling
water pollution from logging and agriculture. This is a huge and
complex task. The Water Quality Boards must find a way to collect
accurate information about the effects of logging at specific sites,
and they must effectively enforce regulation to improve water quality
in streams that have been damaged. Local Sierra Club activists are
working with the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
to improve the condition of area streams.
Current logging practices can damage water quality in several ways.
Roads and skid trails forever change the way water moves down slope
in steep terrain. These roads and tractor trails, including culvert
crossings, are often in a nearly constant state of erosion during
the winter. Logging on steep slopes and on landslides and other
unstable areas, as well as reductions in tree canopy increase erosion
Many Central Coast streams are listed as impaired under section
303(d) of the Clean Water Act. When a stream is listed, the Water
Quality Control Board must try to improve water quality by reducing
soil erosion and other pollution sources. The Board must also monitor
the impaired streams to verify that improvement is taking place.
The Central Coast Board continues to issue waivers even though boards
in other regions are switching to waste discharge permits which
can track cumulative impacts in watersheds.
Other sources of soil erosion and sedimentation of water sources
include poorly-maintained rural roads, construction sites, and allowing
erosive run-off on properties.
How to help
o Contact your state representatives to tell them that Regional
Water Quality Control Board need the staff and resources to monitor
sediment in streams. These resources could be funded with a waste
discharge permit fee-a source of funds which would not increase
the State's budgetary problems.
o Attend the May 14 Regional Board hearing in San Luis Obispo on
waivers for four timber harvest operations: 1) Redtree Properties,
278 acres on San Vicente Creek, 2) Redwood Empire, Pryce Creek 46-acre
timber harvest on Ramsey Gulch, 3) the Soquel Demonstration State
Forest, 201 acres on Soquel Creek, and 4) the Estrada, 5 acres on
The Sierra Club believes that permits should be issued instead of
waivers. Attendance by clean water advocates is extremely important.
The timber industry will turn out in full force.
o If you cannot attend the May 14 meeting, please write a letter
asking the Board to issue waste discharge permits instead of granting
waivers. FAX: 805- 549-3147. For more information, call Jodi Frediani,
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