HumCo & The Eel

by Daniel Mintz, July 17, 2013

In a letter that calls for “community action in a time of extreme need,” county supervisors are supporting a state grant funding request from the Eel River Recovery Project.

The condition of the Eel River and its tributaries during this year’s dry cycle was highlighted at the July 9 Board of Supervisors meeting. Supervisor Estelle Fennell co-sponsored approval of a letter to the state Water Quality Control Board asking the agency to fund the Recovery Project’s citizen monitoring work, data collection and water conservation outreach efforts.

The letter warns of impacts from water pollution and the illegal water use of industrial-scale marijuana grows in combination with extremely dry weather. The Eel’s tributaries and even its main river reaches could dry out, the letter states.

Briceland resident Tom Grover is part of the Recovery Project team and he told supervisors the community is interested in the river’s well-being but needs guidance. “They need the technical knowledge of how to interface with the government organizations,” he said.

There are lots of people who’d prefer to be in compliance with environmental regulations, Grover continued, but “with the history of 35 years of code enforcement and things like that, they’re real reluctant.”

Outreach efforts will consist of “going out into the community and we’re going to meet with people in their houses,” Grover said. Water monitoring and providing information on how to reduce road-related sediment impacts will also be done.

Pat Higgins, the Recovery Project’s coordinator, emphasized that education is as important as enforcement. “It’s a dire year in the Eel, but it’s also a teachable moment,” he said.

Relating his group’s work to the Mattole Restoration Council and Sanctuary Forest water storage and impact reduction outreach in the upper Mattole watershed, Higgins said the plan is to “basically talk to people about reconsidering how they use water.”

Some outreach has already been done and Higgins described what’s been learned. “We’ve found that many of these creeks, with many of the people actually having been long term marijuana growers, are actually in very good ecological condition,” he said. “So it’s a mixed bag out there.”

Enforcement will be “corollary,” Higgins continued, but “if you only use enforcement and you broad-brush the whole community, it’s quite possible you’ll have an adverse effect.”

The funding being sought is from the state Water Board’s Clean Up and Abatement Fund. Studying the Eel’s condition will cost $455,000, Higgins said, and the grant request is for $200,000.

The fund is an appropriate source, he continued, as enforcement should be augmented by “the education and the monitoring that we need to actually get our own house in order.”

“That statement is so much the core of this message,” said Fennell. “Get a buy-in from the community, so the community – which, as a whole, really is concerned about the environment — can help both its own self and the broader Eel River basin.”

Fennell said she’s seen “on the ground, the level of trust you’ve gotten from the community for your work.”

During public comment, members of environmental groups, residents of the Eel and Van Duzen watersheds and “citizen water monitors” highlighted the importance of community involvement and education.

Responding to a question from Supervisor Mark Lovelace, Higgins said the Recovery Project’s work will be in tandem with other efforts but won’t duplicate them. “The Eel’s been in the shade, Mark, in terms of getting resources, so I think more is definitely needed,” he said. “This is more synergistic than duplicative.”

The board’s support letter states that encouraging voluntary compliance with state water use laws will reduce the need for state enforcement, improve river flows and limit pollution. It gained unanimous approval.

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