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Proposal to Centralize WB’s Oversight on Forestry Issues

FYI (thanks to Coast Action Group for the expertise on these comments),

August 3, 2009
State Water Resources Control Board
1001 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Consideration of a proposed resolution directing staff to develop a statewide approach addressing forest activities on national forest system lands, including timer harvesting, grazing, off-road vehicle recreation, and fire suppression

Dear Board:

We are very concerned about the proposed “centralizing” of the Regional Board’s oversight of water impacts regarding forestry activities.

The primary authority in California to implement the management measures for forestry in conformance with the 6217 (g) guidance comes from the Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practice Act (FPA) (Cal. Pub. Res. Code 4511 et seq.). Regulations (14 Cal. Code Reg. 895 et seq.) adopted pursuant to this law include practices in conformity with the management measures. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCBs) also have oversight over nonpoint discharges associated with forestry operations through the Porter-Cologne Act. The Porter-Cologne Act provides back-up authority for implementing the management measures, including waste discharge requirements, cease and desist orders, cleanup and abatement orders, civil monetary liability for specified violations, and criminal prosecutions for specified violations.

Although California does have the basic legal and programmatic tools to implement a forestry program in conformity with Section 6217, these tools have not been fully effective in ensuring water quality standards are attained and maintained and beneficial uses are protected. California waters currently experience significant impacts from forestry. For example, silviculture is the leading source of impairment to water quality in the North Coast of California. Related to these water quality problems, California has a number of species, in particular salmon, that are endangered, threatened or otherwise seriously at risk, due in very significant part to forestry activities that impair their spawning, breeding and rearing habitat.

The Proposed Action is not consistent with Certification of the Timber Harvest Review Process as a Certified Regulatory Program: The Timber Harvest Review Process was approved as a Certified Regulatory Program (as an abbreviated CEQA process) on the basis that the program would be multi-disciplinary  (inclusive of Regional Board and Department of Fish and Game recommendations on projects). In actual practice, CDF, as lead agency, has been less than open to accepting recommendations as part of the Timber Harvest Plan Review process.  This is one major reason for the failure of this process to protect water quality values in timber harvest activity.  The proposed action by the State Water Board would diminish the status of the multidisciplinary approach.

The proposed action is not consistent with Z’berg-Nejedly Act: Z’berg-Nejedly, the authorizing legislation for the Forest Practice Act, assumed the context of the multidisciplinary review team as an abbreviated CEQA environmental review process.  Allowing one agency to dominate the whole process is inappropriate and leads to problematic results.  The Forest Practice Act and Rules state that all Timber Harvest Plans must be consistent with the Applicable Water Quality Control Plan (Basin Plan). Who better to interpret the Basin Plan For The North Coast, as applied to a project (Timber Harvest Plan) than the Regional Board?  The Department of Forestry, nor the State Water Board, do have the knowledge or expertise to determine Basin Plan conformance.

The proposed action is not consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act (Re-authorization /CZARA):  The State has contractual responsibility with EPA and NOAA to address control of non-point pollutant source responsibility, including pollutant input from timber harvest activity, under State regulatory authority.  (See CZARA analysis below).  Altering and reducing Regional Board authority to deal with timber harvest activity, as proposed by this State Board action, works against the State’s ability to perform and control pollutant impacts from timber harvest activity.

Proposed Action is not consistent with Certification of the Timber Harvest Review Process as a Certified Regulatory Program: The Timber Harvest Review Process was approved as a Certified Regulatory Program (as an abbreviated CEQA process) on the basis that the program would be multi-disciplinary  (inclusive of Regional Board and Department of Fish and Game recommendations on projects). In actual practice, CDF, as lead agency, has been less than open to accepting recommendations as part of the Timber Harvest Plan Review process.  This is one major reason for the failure of this process to protect water quality values in timber harvest activity.  The proposed action by the State Water Board would diminish the status of the multi-disciplinary approach.

Proposed Action is not consistent with Z’berg-Nejedly Act: Z’berg – Nejedly, the authorizing legislation for the Forest Practice Act, assumed the context of the multidisciplinary review team as an abbreviated CEQA environmental review process.  Allowing one agency to dominate the whole process is inappropriate and leads to bad results.  The Forest Practice Act and Rules state that all Timber Harvest Plans must be consistent with the Applicable Water Quality Control Plan (Basin Plan).  Who better to interpret the Basin Plan For The North Coast, as applied to a project (Timber Harvest Plan) than the Regional Board?  The Department of Forestry, nor the State Water Board, do have the knowledge or expertise to determine Basin Plan conformance.

Proposed Action is not consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act (Re-authorization /CZARA):  The State has contractual responsibility with EPA and NOAA to address control of non-point pollutant source responsibility, including pollutant input from timber harvest activity, under State regulatory authority.  (See CZARA analysis below). Altering and reducing Regional Board authority to deal with timber harvest activity, as proposed by this State Board action, works against the State’s ability to perform and control pollutant impacts from timber harvest activity.

Proposed Action does not consider Regional Variability: Forests and rivers function differently in different areas of the State.  Sierra forests, rivers, and soils respond to management very differently than coastal temperate rain forests and soil types. These differences point out the necessity to manage forest practices and related effects regionally, not from Sacramento, and not under one Waste Discharge Permit or Conditional Waiver. The North Coast Regional Board has been working on timber harvest issues in the region for the last 20 years.  In the last 7, or so years, the issue has become more paramount.  Regional Board staff is educated in the regional land conditions, stream conditions, regional timber industry conditions, and other variable s (including interpretation of the Basin Plan) relevant to the north coast and only the north coast.   The North Coast Regional Board (with oversight by the State Board) is in the best position to assess, promulgate, and implement actions necessary to protect water quality values in areas of timber harvest in the region.  Management scenario from outside the region would necessarily by less effective and more costly in the long run.  The proposed action from the State Board is inconsistent with all of the above as it cannot effectively take into account regional variability.
Proposed Action is not consistent with the current MAA (SWRCB/CDF): Several years ago, due to forest management inconsistencies between CDF and the SWRCB, and the apparent lack of ability by CDF to address water quality conditions on Timber Harvest Plans, the MAA was adjusted to address issue.  The proposed change in Waiver and Waste Discharge Reporting for Timber Operations would have to be rewritten to accommodate proposed changes.

Proposed Action cannot be consistent with CEQA mandates: The proposed action is a project under CEQA.  Given the above discussion, it should be apparent that the proposed action by the State Board cannot meet CEQA mandates of mitigation. It is not possible to mitigate by making things worse through streamlining and centralized control.  It is not possible to mitigate issues discussed above.

This proposal to centralize the State Water Board’s mandate to protect California waters, if enacted, will diminish and threaten California waters with increased pollution and more adverse impacts to its fisheries . It is our comment and recommendation to not enact and implement this proposal.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Larry Hanson
Northern California River Watch