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June 8, 2000

 

SPECIAL REPORT: Muddy waters in Elk River

Debate over tobacco cash

Suit filed over Klamath flows

Steelhead trout listed

PIC to become WIB

Hepatitis B shots required

Free lunches to low-income

Youth council members sought


SPECIAL REPORT: Muddy waters in Elk River

The April meeting of the North Coast Regional Water Control Board in the Eureka City Council chambers was a lively one.

Water board staffers testified that Pacific Lumber Co.'s methods and rate of extracting timber may have caused damage to the North Fork of the Elk River's watershed. Citing a study from 1998, they said removal of trees and construction of roads was contributing to erosion and increased silt in the river, that the amount of debris released by landslides in the watershed in the last 15 years was 13 times greater than it had been in the period before, and as the dirt from those landslides enters the river, it is carried downstream as silt. The increase in landslide rate points to a strong connection between the PL's increased timber harvesting and increased amounts of silt in the river.

A few residents of the North Fork of the Elk River also testified that the PL was causing the stream to fill with silt. PL biologist Jeffery Barrett roundly denounced the findings of the water board staff and the suspicions of the residents. The silt was coming from other sources, Barrett said.

After the battle of laser pointers and statistics, no action was taken and everybody went home.

Miles away, the north fork of Elk River, the color of coffee with cream and about as transparent, continued to wind its quiet way through the watershed. It passed clearcuts, landslides -- and finally Paulette Kallo's house.

"I thought I was going to get back to nature, drawing water from this river," said Kallo, who moved to Humboldt County from Massachusetts three years ago. Sitting in the front room of her house, surrounded by lush grass and beautiful trees, it looks as if she has.

But the brown water is not just an aesthetic issue for Kallo; the river used to be her water supply. Today, she is dependent on a tanker-truck that pulls up to fill a 1,350-gallon black plastic tank in the yard.

Kallo, like at least nine other residents on the north fork of the Elk River, have what are called riparian water rights -- the legal right to pull water from the river, filter it and use it for all domestic purposes.

Residents who have lived there longer than Kallo say about 1993 they began noticing a decrease in water quality. It tasted different, wasn't as clear and caused increased wear and tear on purification equipment and water heaters. The immediate source of the problem was easy enough to identify: Increased amounts of silt were being carried down the stream.

"When I was young there were deep pools and rock on the bottom," said Kristi Wrigley, whose family has lived on the north fork since 1903. "It remained that way until about 1990," she said, when the water started to change. She would go fishing with her son and find "this muck between the rocks." Years of "incessant logging" followed, and the situation gradually worsened until the river became what it is today.


[photo of Kristi Wrigley] Kristi Wrigley points out siltation in the
river behind her house.


Wrigley and Kallo both point to Pacific Lumber Co, owner of 92 percent of the north fork's watershed. From 1974 to 1987, approximately 72 acres of the 14,600-acre watershed were harvested per year. But in the years from 1987 to 1997, that rate increased to 458 acres per year.

That made the case against PL strong enough for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to step in. In an order dated Sept. 22, 1997, PL was forced to replace the residents' water that the water board staff believes was damaged by harvesting. After some negotiations, an agreement was reached, and in early 1999 PL started paying for water to be delivered to residents.

Kallo is still not happy. She wants her permanent water source -- the river -- to be restored.

Wrigley agreed, saying, "We want the water source to be the river."

Alternative water sources aren't very appealing. The cost to connect residents to the closest municipal water supply is prohibitive. According to water quality documents, well water in that area tends to be excessively high in iron and manganese. And rainwater collection systems don't gather enough to supply a household. That leaves only the river or the truck.

A permanent solution is not likely to come soon, said Frank Reichmuth, senior water resource control engineer for the water board. Documents indicate that there are 228,656 cubic yards of sediment waiting to enter the stream from logging roads already in existence. Reichmuth estimated it would take "at least a decade and as long as 50 years" for the stream to cleanse itself of silt.

That's if PL were to cease logging in the watershed tomorrow and that's not likely. PL has already proposed further harvests, although the plans will not be approved or denied until further study has been carried out.

Mary Bullwinkle, spokeswoman for the company, denies PL is at fault for the siltation. She said that PL hopes the watershed analysis that will be done for the north fork will clear up the issue of blame. "I don't think that there has been a specific determination of what the causes are," she said.

For the residents weary of poor water quality, the answer may finally come in the form of a court decision. The 20 residents who have signed on to a lawsuit against PL are seeking damages for loss of water supply and increased flooding due to PL's harvest practices.

The suit, which is in the discovery process, is far from a sure bet. Half of the charges in a similar suit filed by residents of the town of Stafford were dismissed April 26. Whether or not north fork residents win their case, one thing is certain: the north fork will continue on its muddy way for years to come.

-- reported by Arno Holschuh


Debate over tobacco cash

When big tobacco and the attorneys general of several states settled out of court in November 1998, the agreement stipulated that cigarette companies would pay big bucks to state and local governments. The money was slated for "the advancement of public health" and "the implementation of important tobacco-related health measures."

But with a decision about how to spend the first installment of that money coming up on the June 13 Board of Supervisors agenda, local anti-tobacco advocates are up in arms over a proposal from county officials to use it on regular county business.

The North Coast Tobacco Prevention Network, the Tobacco Education Network and local chapters of the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society among others back a proposal to spend 100 percent of the money on health, of which 25 percent would be spent on tobacco-use prevention and cessation programs.

The cash-strapped county may have little choice but to use the money for non-tobacco related purposes, said Assistant County Administrative Officer Karen Suiker. Suiker said that while county staff "doesn't necessarily disagree with the importance" of health and anti-tobacco programs, "There are simply other needs," including additional personnel and infrastructure maintenance that has had to be delayed because of tight budgets in recent years.

"Our budget is already out of balance by $2.6 million-$2.9 million," said Chief Administrative Officer John Murray. He said spending the money on health and tobacco-related programs is "a good idea, but we can't afford it."

"The situation is still too fluid" for the board to make a final decision, said 3rd District Supervisor John Woolley, because the county is still unsure how much money the as-yet unfinished state budget will include for local government.

Anti-tobacco activists argue that dollars spent on tobacco prevention save the county money because of the cost of tobacco-related illness to health programs and the economy.

"That may well be the case, but we have today's financial difficulties to deal with," Suiker said.

California counties have varied widely in how they spent the money. Napa, Butte and Lake counties all plan on spending the lion's share of the money on regular county business, and Del Norte County has already funneled all of its settlement money into the general fund. On the other end of the spectrum, Santa Barbara, San Diego and Alameda counties have allocated 100 percent of the settlement funds to health and tobacco-related programs.



Suit filed over Klamath flows

The first shot has been fired in a legal battle over the amount of water irrigators should be allowed to siphon out of the Klamath River -- and how much will be left for the salmon to swim in.

A coalition of fishermen and conservation groups filed a lawsuit last week against the federal Bureau of Reclamation, claiming that its plans to provide the full amount of water to farmers during a dry year will have disastrous environmental effects on endangered fish in the Klamath River. Coho salmon and the recently listed steelhead trout both use the Klamath and low river flows can cause the water to become too warm or polluted for fish to survive.

The suit alleges that in planning to let so little water through its dams, the bureau has violated the National Environmental Protection Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Endangered Species Act. The plaintiffs are asking for injunctive relief, meaning that, rather than asking for money, they want the judge to stop the Bureau of Reclamation from executing its plans.

"We developed a plan that we believed was sufficiently protective of coho and other anadromous species," said Bureau of Reclamation Area Manager Karl Wirkus. Anadromous fish like the coho and the steelhead spend much of their lives in the ocean but spawn in freshwater streams.

The California Department of Fish and Game has stated that the proposed river flows would result in serious damage to young anadromous fish and has proposed significantly higher flow rates. In a May 18 letter Fish and Game's Klamath River coordinator Michael Rode said that even his department's compromise flow recommendations will not maintain anadromous fish in good condition, but "They will avoid some of the more serious impacts."

Rode states that the ideal flow rates are those proposed by the Hardy Phase I Study, prepared by Professor Thom Hardy of Utah State University for the Department of the Interior, the bureau's parent agency. The study proposes flow rates significantly greater -- in some periods double -- those planned by the bureau.

Wirkus said that the Hardy study "was not intended to develop a firm floor of minimum stream flow."

But the introduction to the report states that the recommendations it makes are the "minimum required to support the ecological needs of aquatic resources, particularly anadromous fish."

The bureau has also not obtained a biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service. The plaintiffs in the suit, including the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Klamath Forest Alliance and the Northcoast Environmental Center, claim that such an opinion is necessary under the Endangered Species Act. Wirkus said that his organization had already incorporated NMFS into the design process and therefore did not need to have an official biological opinion.

"There are many facets to the Endangered Species Act, and we believe we are in compliance," Wirkus said.



Steelhead trout listed

In a related story, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed steelhead trout as threatened under the Endangered Species Act for Northern California last week. The listing, which will take effect within 70 days, will make it illegal to cause the "take," or killing, of steelhead.

The listing will have less impact on land use than the first listings of anadromous fishes in the area in October 1999. That's because most of the river habitats used by steelhead trout are also used by the already-protected coho salmon.

"It will matter because steelhead can use smaller streams than the coho," said Tim McKay, executive director of the Northcoast Environmental Center. The NEC is also one of several organizations suing the Board of Forestry, claiming it has not sufficiently protected coho habitat.



PIC to become WIB

As of July 1 the Private Industry Council, a panel of business representatives who have helped steer government-assisted job creation for the past two decades, will cease to exist. In its place will be the new Workforce Investment Board which will help implement the Workforce Investment Act.

Input from the private sector has been invaluable in allocating resources and manpower, said Farrel Starr, PIC executive director. Even though government analysts can identify problems, "It's not as good as someone from the private sector telling us."

How will the new board be different?

Starr said the scope of duties will be much broader and include economic development, not just job development.



Hepatitis B shots required

"Prevention is definitely the key with viral hepatitis," said Public Health Nurse Jennifer Richmond. Once you have the virus, it may never go away.

The Humboldt County Public Health Department is fighting the disease with two prevention programs -- one requiring immunizations for hepatitis B and the other offering protection against hepatitis A at a reduced cost.

Students entering the seventh grade are required by law to be immunized for hepatitis B, which is spread by infected blood or sexual contact and can become a permanent disease in some cases. Richmond said that seventh grade is a logical time to require the immunizations because it is the time when many adolescents begin to put themselves at risk for exposure.

"As much as parents don't like to think about their kids being involved in high-risk behavior, they are," she said.

Hepatitis A immunizations are not required, but it's a good idea to have your child immunized anyway, Richmond said. Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food and water or, less frequently, personal contact.

Call your doctor or the health department at 268-2108 for more information.



Free lunches to low-income

"Often, families have a hard time replacing the free meals their kids get at school," said Jennifer Rishel, summer food coordinator for Food for People.

Her organization is one of several getting ready to provide free lunches to low-income children through a federal child nutrition program. The Humboldt County Summer Lunch Program provides nutritious lunches to help replace the free or reduced-cost lunches that more than 9,000 children in Humboldt County are eligible to receive at school during the educational year.

There are several new sites for the children to get their lunches this year, including Fortuna, Rio Dell and Manila. Rishel said that's important, because "during the school year ... kids can receive up to 75 percent of their daily allowances" of nutrients through free lunch and breakfast programs.

"This is one way to help stretch the family food budget through the summer."



Youth council members sought

The city of Eureka Youth Council has announced that it is now accepting applications from Eureka youth age 14 to 18. The Youth Council advises the City Council on youth-related issues and organizes activities for children, including registering bikes and helping to educate parents about children's car seats.

"They're really dedicated and into being a voice for teens," said Suzie Owsley, the council's adviser. Teens interested in applying should contact Owsley at 441-4321. The deadline for applications is June 23


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