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Comment Letter on Mad River Watershed Gravel Mining

Janet Parrish
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
75 Hawthorne Street (WTR-2)
San Francisco, CA 94105
Ph: 415-972-3456
Fax: 415-947-3537

Janet Parrish,

After reading all available information on the proposed Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for sediment and turbidity in the Mad River watershed and tributaries, we have the following comments. The Voice Family would like to emphasize how important it is, to include more information about instream gravel extraction and the effects this has on water quality with-in the watershed environment. We believe that these operations are inconsistent with the intended protection of the water quality of the Mad River, resulting in impacts to significant biological resources and the degradation of the beneficial uses found there.

Due to the numerous credible studies demonstrating environmental degradation that results from instream gravel mining (Knuuti and McComas (2003) Mad River), it is quite probable that the existing instream gravel extraction operations in or near the Mad River and its tributaries have adversely affected fisheries and aquatic communities in those systems. Particularly those species that are already rare or endangered, due to the elimination of suitable habitats and reduction in quantity and quality of food resources.

Instream gravel mining and many forms of floodplain surface mining are harmful to the Mad Rivers environmental baseline. Current requirements, such as the County of Humboldt Extraction Review Team (CHERT) do not adequately protect and represent these public resources. Federal regulations and guidelines that increase protection of these resources also should be enforced to protect the Mad River.

Minimization or mitigation by CHERT and the effects of instream mining is problematic, if not unlikely. Because the physical structure is the very foundation upon which stream communities are assembled (Brown et al. 1998).

Gravel replenishment or recruitment has been used as a technique to mitigate the reduction of sediment load below dams (Kondolf 1997), but has not been considered to be a viable option for instream mining sites because of the difficulty in distributing the aggregate naturally and completely throughout the basin prior to the next high water event (Brown et al. 1998). Even when results have been successful below dams, effects are short termed and require continual replenishment efforts (Kondolf 1997). In addition, strategies to minimize impacts are often not effective.

Another approach that has been examined is to estimate the annual bedload to determine the “safe sustainable yield”. However, there are complications with this approach as well, due to the variability in bedload transport from year to year. Alternatively, if extraction rates were instead based on the amount of new deposition per year, the channel may remain negatively affected because mining at the replenishment rate is expected to produce sediment-deficient flow conditions downstream, since the upstream area is the sediment source for downstream reaches (Kondolf 1997).

The effects of instream gravel mining may not be obvious immediately because active sediment transport is required for the effects (e.g. incision, instability) to propagate upstream and downstream. Given that geomorphically-effective sediment transport events are infrequent on many rivers, there may be a lag of several or many years before the effects of instream gravel mining are evident and propagate along the channel. This delayed manifestation of geomorphic effects leads to the false assumption that floods cause damage to stream systems, when in actuality anthropogenic changes often “set the stage” for geomorphic change. Large flood events simply provide the necessary stream power for the changes to occur.

Issue

Instream mining operations remove accumulated sand and gravel directly from stream channels in increasingly larger quantities in the U.S. (EPA 1995), primarily for construction and industrial uses. Instream mining is prohibited in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland and is restricted in select rivers in Italy, Portugal, and New Zealand (Kondolf 1997). In addition, instream mining is not allowed in Saskatchewan or most of Canada (Starnes and Gasper 1996). Sand and gravel are mined commercially in every state in the U.S.; however, due to numerous research studies that have demonstrated long lasting environmental effects from instream mining, many states have imposed strict regulations on instream mining, and some no longer allow it (Roell 1999). Some of the more detrimental effects of instream mining include channel degradation and erosion, headcutting, increased turbidity, stream bank erosion, and sedimentation of riffle areas. All of these c!
hanges can adversely affect fish and other aquatic organisms, either directly by damage to the organisms or through habitat degradation, or indirectly through disruption of the food web. Further, effects on stream geomorphology (e.g., channel incision) can result in infrastructure damage such as undermining bridge piers and exposure of buried pipeline crossings and water supply intakes (Kondolf 1997). Each mining operation not only exerts an individual effect on the stream, but effects of multiple mining operations within a river system may be cumulative. Therefore, individual extraction operations should be evaluated in the context of their spatial and temporal cumulative impacts.

Impacts

Stream Geomorphology
Removal of alluvial materials by instream sand and gravel mining disrupts the balance between sediment supply and transport capacity, typically inducing incision upstream and downstream of the extraction site (Kondolf 1997). The alteration of geomorphic structure may occur due to increased velocity and decreased sediment load associated with mined areas. Excavation in the active channel lowers the streambed, creating a nick point that steepens channel slope and increases velocity (Kondolf 1997). The nick point migrates upstream due to increased water speed, i.e., headcutting. The deposition of sediments at the mine site creates a sediment-deficient flow leaving the site, this in turn results in the water picking up more sediment from the stream reach below the mine site; ultimately resulting in bed degradation downstream.
Both processes can move long distances (as much as 7 river miles) and headcutting can additionally move into tributaries (Kondolf 1997). Channel incision can also cause lateral instability by increasing stream bank heights, resulting in bank failure and additional transport of sediments downstream.

Aquatic and Riparian Habitat
Effects directly related to extraction and to changes in geomorphology include increased sedimentation, turbidity, and bankfull widths (Rosgen 1996), higher stream temperatures, reduced dissolved oxygen, lowered water table, decreased wetted periods in riparian wetlands, and degraded riparian habitat (see reviews by Nelson 1993; NMFS 1996; Meador and Layher 1998; Bork 1999; Roell 1999; and original research by Kanehl and Lyons 1992; Brown et al. 1998; and references therein). Channel geomorphology changes, such as a wider and shallower streambed (Kanehl and Lyons 1992; Brown et al. 1998) may consequently result in increased stream temperature (Kondolf 1997). Although studies have shown differing results, chemical changes such as reduced dissolved oxygen and changes in pH levels have been reported downstream of instream mining areas (Nelson 1993; Meador and Layher 1998). Loss of riparian habitat may result from direct removal of vegetation along the stream bank to facilitate !
the use of a dragline or through the process of lowering the water table, bank undercutting, and channel incision (Kondolf 1997; Brown et al. 1998).

The physical composition and stability of substrates are altered as a result of instream mining, and most of these physical effects may exacerbate sediment entrainment in the channel. Furthermore, the process of instream mining and gravel washing produces fine sediments under all flow conditions, resulting in a deposition of fine sediment in riffles as well as other habitats at low discharge (Nelson 1993). Excess sediment is considered the greatest pollutant in U.S. waters and constitutes one of the major environmental factors in the degradation of stream fisheries (Waters 1995). Much of the excess sediment is a result of poor watershed and riparian land use. However, instream mining may contribute additional sediment to downstream reaches due to the disruption of substrate stability. Once sediment enters the stream, it is best to let natural geomorphological and hydrological processes reach a dynamic equilibrium, rather than further exacerbating the situation by additional !
disturbance.

Aquatic Organisms
The distribution of stream biota is strongly related to physical habitat (Brown et al. 1998); therefore, fundamental changes in the total biotic community are to be expected when the physical structure of the stream is altered. Suspended sediments can limit primary production by reducing light penetration (Nelson 1993; Waters 1995), which, in turn, will affect the aquatic food chain and limit production at higher trophic levels. Both fish and aquatic invertebrate abundance may be significantly diminished by direct damage, removal of the substrate, degradation of habitat, riparian habitat removal, reduction in spawning success, reduction in food availability, and clogging and damage of gills (see reviews by Nelson 1993; NMFS 1996)

In addition to the effects of mining activities at the site of extraction, physical and biotic effects can extend far upstream and downstream (Brown et al. 1998). All of these adverse impacts can result in shifts in species composition, decrease in species diversity and abundance, and a loss of sensitive species and ecosystem integrity. The effects of sand and gravel extraction on stream ecosystem recovery time can be extensive. Kanehl and Lyons (1992) found conditions in some stream reaches in Wisconsin to remain in early stages of recovery 20 years after mining had stopped, and other reaches were in worse condition after 10 years. Further, total restoration of severely affected streams has been considered to be improbable (Brown et al. 1998).

Secondary Effects

Instream mining also has secondary consequences. Expansion of a mine site or mining at a new site often is preceded by riparian forest clearing, which can affect instream habitat and contribute to bank instability (Bull and Scott 1974; Nelson 1993; Kondolf 1997). Bed degradation from instream mining lowers the elevation of stream flow and the floodplain water table (alluvial aquifer; Kondolf 1997), which in turn can eliminate water table-dependent woody vegetation in riparian areas (Kondolf 1998) and decrease wetted periods in riparian wetlands. Entry to mine sites by mining equipment may result in disturbance from repeated crossing of the stream channel and from road building through riparian areas.

Floodplain

Floodplains and terraces (former floodplains) are the sites of sediment storage in stream systems, and can contain large quantities of sand and gravel that can be mined economically. Floodplain mining pits often extend below the water table, which can provide a convenient water source for separating desired particle sizes from excavated materials. A floodplain mine also can become the nucleus of major instability in the adjacent stream channel when lateral channel movement or overbank flows redirect the active channel through the excavation pit.
When floodplain pits “capture” the active channel, off-channel mines become instream mines that then produce the negative symptoms associated with instream excavation (Kondolf 1997).

Channel capture often happens abruptly and usually occurs where the excavation pit offers flood flows a path of less resistance, often where the path is a shorter distance for flow to move down valley. Captured pits that are large relative to the stream channel create lake-like environments that can locally change environmental conditions and therefore the biological community, in some cases enhancing populations of problematic non-native species (WCC 1980a; Kondolf 1998). Similar effects can occur when mining directly connects floodplain pits to the active channel (WCC 1980a).

Several examples of channel capture by excavation pits have been documented. A gravel pit located in an inactive floodplain channel of Tujunga Creek, California, captured the active channel during a flood and initiated two headcuts that moved 2,600 and 3,000 feet upstream with vertical incision up to 14 feet (Bull and Scott 1974; Collins and Dunne 1990); the pit trapped sediment arriving from upstream, and the hungry water exiting the pit continued the bed degradation downstream. Two gravel mine pits in the floodplain of the Yakima River, Washington, captured the active channel during a flood, relocating the channel laterally nearly 2000 feet within a day (Dunne and Leopold 1978). An off-channel pit captured the active channel of the Clackamas River, Oregon, causing 6 feet of channel incision over 3000 feet upstream (Kondolf 1997). Eight gravel mining pits, originally in floodplain locations, are now in-channel pits following capture by the Merced River, California (Vick 199!
5). In several Alaska streams, floodplain mine sites with forested buffer strips between the site and the channel did not capture the channel, but many non-buffered sites did (WCC 1980a). In Missouri, a floodplain gravel mine captured the active channel of the Little Piney River, increasing stream temperature 30 F between an upstream spring discharge and the first downstream spring (Tryon 1980).

CHERT

As was mentioned in: US EPA Draft Mad River Total Maximum Daily Loads for Sediment and Turbidity, October 2007; Re: Gravel Mining, pg 8:

“In 1992, a scientific advisory committee, known as the County of Humboldt Extraction Review Team (CHERT) was appointed by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to provide scientific oversight of gravel extraction and to establish an adaptive management program to obtain some dynamic equilibrium and channel stability (Lehre et al. 2005). CHERT reviews gravel extraction information and makes recommendations on gravel mining”….

This is where the US EPA and many other state and federal regulatory agencies have let themselves be bamboozled by the authority of CHERT. CHERT’s role and responsibility has only been in place, to safeguard the mining operators’ livelihood.

CHERT has absolutely no authority too or enforce any county, state or federal regulation, law, act or code. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and Mining Operators has given CHERT its role and responsibilities that are traditionally given to an enforcement/regulatory agency, and that does not comply with the California State Administrative Procedures Act.

With no exception, all state and federal instream surface mining regulatory and enforcement agencies, hampered by inadequate funding and low staffing levels, have allowed CHERT it’s so called scientific advisory authority over instream surface mining in Humboldt County.

The Lehre (2005) was indeed paid for by the Mad River mining operators. The Lehre (2005) is also referred too as the: 2005 COUNTY OF HUMBOLDT EXTRACTION REVIEW TEAM (CHERT) HISTORICAL ANALYSES OF THE MAD RIVER: 1993-2003. Lehre (2005) does not reflect the effects that human activities, like instream gravel mining has on the Mad River watershed or its tributaries. CHERT only justifies its own client’s existence and asks for more.

The following are members of CHERT, and report responsibilities for Lehre (2005)

 Doug Jager: assembled the cross-section data, put it in a common format, checked it for consistency and correctness, and corrected it where necessary.

 Randy Klein: did the data collection and analysis of active channel width and bank erosion, wrote the introduction and sections on active channel width and bank erosion, and edited and assembled the report. He prepared figures 1, 2, 5, and 6, and tables 2 and 3.

 Andre Lehre: did the analysis of the cross-section changes and wrote most of the text. He prepared all figures other than 1, 2, 5, and 6, and all tables other than 2 and 3.

 Bill Trush: did the biological and fish habitat analysis. It is still in preparation and not included in this draft.

All of which, are paid directly and individually by the Mad River mining operators for their time spend on this analyses (Lehre 2005).

As stated in Lehre (2005): “Gravel mining companies have collected a substantial amount of monitoring information, primarily channel cross sections and air photos. The accumulated data set provided a good basis for evaluating how the river has responded to the adaptive management program and re-evaluating sustainable mining volumes and methods”….

Whose best interest does this serve? The operators are monitoring and documenting themselves? And everyone thought CHERT was monitoring Instream gravel extraction in Humboldt County!

Lehre (2005) points out: “Thus there are now three ‘competing’ sediment budgets that address sustainable mining volumes on the Mad River which differ in how ‘available gravel’ is defined and in the approaches taken to determine channel changes, gravel recruitment, and sustainable mining volume” ….

I thought: Lehre (1993), Kondolf and Lutrick (2000), Knuuti and McComas (2003) were studies, not bids. The only ones “competing” for higher sediment budgets are the mining operators.

Lehre (2005) also points out: “Although the sustained yield estimates from these studies are considered fairly close from a scientific perspective given the various methods used and assumptions made, the differences are considered economically significant by mine operators”….

“Economically significant?” you mean: Low sediment extraction budgets = Financial degradation for sand & gravel mining operators. “Fairly close?” you are talking about a difference of 158,000 yd/year between Kondolf and Lutrick (2001) and Knuuti and McComas (2003). I would call that environmentally significant!

Conclusion of Lehre (2005): “This analysis suggests that, under current conditions, overall “zero effect” extraction on the Mad River is on the order of 85,000 yd/year for the upstream reach and 50,000 – 70,000 yd/year for the downstream reach, or a total of 135,000 – 155,000 yd/year for the entire river. Given the uncertainties in this approach, the current average extraction of 175,000 yd/year is not unreasonable, but certainly appears to be an upper limit. The 270,000 yd3/year that Kondolf and Lutrick (2001) suggest might be extracted appears much too high, while the 112,000 yd3/year suggested by Knuuti and McComas (2003) is probably unnecessarily low”….

CHERT must be using SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess). Scientifically speaking, CHERT would split the difference of extraction amounts per year, between the high (Kondolf and Lutrick (2000) and the low (Knuuti and McComas (2003), add 17,000 yd/year to the mix and keep their clients (Mad River mining operators) economically green.

Of the studies cited in Lehre (2005): Lehre (1993), Kondolf and Lutrick (2000), Knuuti and McComas (2003). Only Knuuti and McComas (2003) was not commissioned by any Mad River mining operator (lowest of annual extraction yd/year), but by the US Army Corps.

CHERT: Who, What, Why, When and Where

a) CHERT is comprised of 4 individual contractors, who are appointed and serving at the pleasure of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, not the public.
b) CHERT is not a county or state agency.
c) CHERT is not a Company, Firm or Business.
d) CHERT does not notify the public or accept public comments on its final decisions concerning instream mining extraction amounts or proscriptions’.
e) CHERT members are paid directly and individually by each mining operator for direct services rendered.
f) CHERT members are paid directly, individually and equally between the mining operators for fixed in-direct service rendered.
g) All CHERT program expenses are shared and paid equally between the mining operators, directly and individually to each CHERT member.
h) Quarterly billing from CHERT, state Mining Operators by name as “client”
i) CHERT represents and serves as an agent, in the best interest of the gravel mining operators, not the public for instream surface mining in Humboldt County.
j) The Public is not allowed to attend annual meetings with CHERT and regulatory agencies (Gravel Week) discussing site visits, inspections, or post extraction reports.
k) The public is not allowed to contact CHERT members, without first talking to Kirk Girard, Humboldt County Planning Director.

CHERT members have not always been paid directly and individually by the Mining operators. When the Lower Eel River PEIR was adopted by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, on July 2, 1996. CHERT was paid thru what was called the “Surface Mining & Reclamation Program Citizens’ Advisory Committee” (SMAC). This way CHERT would have no conflict of interest; there would be a checked and balanced oversight and public participation, in-part make up by members of the public, mining operators and their agents. Costs incurred by the activities of the CHERT, associated with all instream surface mining in Humboldt County (including Mad River), shall be payable by the mining operators and reviewed by CHERT and SMAC as part of their annual activity. The CHERT shall keep records of the time spent on individual operating sites and shall keep a record of their time spent on each extraction site and on activities involving the entire project area or multiple operations. The CHERT sh!
all submit billing statements as necessary to the secretary of the SMAC, who will administer billing of operators and payments to CHERT through a checking account at a local bank. The account will be called the “CHERT Monitoring Account”. Checks to CHERT will be signed by the secretary and counter signed by persons authorized by SMAC.

SMAC stopped meeting sometime in late 1999 or early 2000. Nobody knows for sure, even after talking with CHERT members and ex-SMAC committee members. I was told by the Humboldt County Planning Director (Kirk Girard) on Sept.16, 2005:

“The Surface Mining & Reclamation Program Citizen’s Advisory Committee (aka “SMAC”) stopped meeting about five or six years ago. The Committee was never formally abolished by the Board but is essentially defunct. The majority of Committee members represented the mining industry”.

“The most common topic was overly burdensome regulations. SMAC was basically replaced by a Surface Mining & Reclamation Program sub-committee of the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor’s Neely and Rodoni are the current members of the sub-committee”.

“I can’t recommend re-starting SMAC because of the negative history of that particular Committee and because I don’t see the need for a citizen’s committee to advise the Board of Supervisors on gravel extraction issues at the moment. The Board has not directed any changes to the existing regulatory program and there are no major policy issues confronting the Board on the immediate horizon”

The only thing we do know for sure about SMAC: its role for instream gravel extraction and CHERT was dissolved in a regular session of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on TUESDAY, MARCH 26, 2002, item 7 of the meeting agenda.

In dissolving SMAC, there is NO public forum to address issues and concerns by the public, in regards’ to instream gravel extraction in Humboldt County. It’s a done deal. For the public to be involved with instream gravel extraction issues in Humboldt County is impossible, or NEVER! If the public does ask questions to state and federal agencies (as I know first hand), “let the finger pointing begin”. Everybody wants the money for permits and being the “lead agency” but no one wants the responsibility and accountability for the mining operators’ actions.

Summary

 Instream gravel mining can disrupt the preexisting balance between sediment supply and transporting capacity and can result in channel incision and bed degradation!
 Instream gravel extraction can increase suspended sediment, sediment transport, water turbidity, and gravel siltation!
 Bed degradation can change the morphology of the channel and decreases channel stability!
 Gravel bar skimming can significantly impact aquatic habitat!
 Operation of heavy equipment in the channel bed can directly destroy spawning habitat, rearing habitat, the juveniles themselves, and macroinvertebrates; can produce increased turbidity and suspended sediment downstream; and has the potential to cause toxic chemical spills!
 Stockpiles of overburden and gravel left or abandoned in the channel or floodplain can alter channel hydraulics during high flows!
 Removal or disturbance of instream roughness elements during gravel extraction activities can negatively affect both quality and quantity of anadromous fish habitat!
 Dry pit and wet pit mining in floodplains may reduce groundwater elevations, reduce stream flows, increase water temperature, and create potential for fish entrapment!
 Destruction of the riparian zone during gravel extraction operations can have multiple deleterious effects on anadromous fish habitat!
 Gravel mining can cause a change in disturbance regimes and patterns with a concomitant change in habitat and species!
 CHERT is not the authority for instream gravel mining in Humboldt County!

It was this comment, from a CHERT Post Extraction Report, which sums up reality. How all involved except, justify and mitigate their actions as instream mining operators: “Except in rare cases, gravel mining harms rivers, but we allow it to continue because of society’s need for aggregate, attempting to balance the need for aggregate with other competing interests”……

Similarly, surrounding the Wounded Knee Massacre of Dec. 29, 1890. L. Frank Baum (author: “Wizard of Oz”) wrote in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, Jan. 3, 1891: “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth”……..

We must demand that our seventh generation have the same range of possibilities for their Watershed as we have for ours. Too many times, we don’t question the negative, often malicious consequences of our greed. While progress should never come to a halt, there are many places it should never come to at all.

Thank you,
Ed Voice and Voice Family

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