In This Issue: New Wild Rivers Bill For Southern California A Big Win For Yuba River Fish! Tell Secretary Salazar: Remove Klamath Dams House has yet to move on Merced bill - please take action! ACTION ALERT:Bad Nunes Water Bill To Senate
River News & Events
New Wild Rivers Bill For Southern California By Steve Evans, Wild & Scenic Project Coordinator
Representative Elton Gallegly introduced legislation last week in Congress to protect nearly 89 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers in the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. H.R. 4109, the Los Padres Conservation and Recreation Act of 2012, proposes to protect segments of Sespe, Piru, Mono, and Indian Creeks as Wild & Scenic Rivers and will add more than 63,000 acres to the Sespe, Matilija, and Dick Smith Wilderness areas.
The product of many years of advocacy by Friends of the River and our conservation allies, H.R. 1401 proposes to protect some of the most biologically and ecologically significant, recreationally important, and culturally valuable streams in the Ventura-Santa Barbara region, including:
An 11.5-mile segment of upper Sespe Creek that largely parallels scenic Highway 33 and provides outstanding opportunities for day use recreation in a rugged gorge. The stream also supports one of the largest populations of endangered arroyo toad in the region and is home to the endangered southern steelhead and the willow fly-catcher (a riverside habitat dependent bird species).
A 38.5-mile segment of upper Piru Creek that also supports healthy populations of arroyo toad and offers a rare opportunity for visitors to recreate along one of the longest remaining free flowing streams in southern California. The creek flows through geological features that provide a key to the understanding of the geology of the entire West Coast. In addition, Piru Creek is rich in Chumash Native American cultural history.
A 24.2-mile segment of Mono Creek and a 14.7-mile segment of Indian Creek. These major tributaries of the upper Santa Ynez River support large populations of arroyo toad and their extensive streamside habitat are home to endangered birds – the least Bell’s vireo and willow flycatcher. Both streams offer some of the wildest backcountry trails and routes in the Sierra Madre Mountains
The Wild & Scenic Rivers component of the bill represents 25 years of effort by Friends of the River to secure permanent protection for Sespe and Piru Creeks on the Los Padres Forest. A lobbying campaign by Friends of the River and Keep the Sespe Wild added nearly 30 miles of Sespe Creek to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System in 1992. A 7.25-mile segment of Piru Creek was also protected as a Wild & Scenic River in 2009. H.R. 4109 will expand protection for the upper segments of both these outstanding streams.
The Wilderness additions proposed in Rep. Gallegly’s bill add 34,554 acres to the existing Dick Smith Wilderness, 13,640 acres to the Sespe Wilderness, and 15,382 to the Matilija Wilderness. The Wilderness additions provide an extra layer of protection to the proposed Wild & Scenic Rivers by preserving the upper watersheds of Sespe, Piru, Mono, and Indian Creeks. H.R. 1401 also establishes the 18,342-acre Condor Ridge Scenic Area, which overlooks the scenic coastline south of Point Conception, with a view of the Channel Islands in the distance.
Rep. Gallegly introduced H.R. 1401 in response to an outpouring of public support from his constituents for a comprehensive wild rivers and wilderness protection proposal developed by Friends of the River and its conservation allies. The comprehensive proposal included 124 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers and nearly 200,000 acres of Wilderness additions in the southern Los Padres National Forest. Friends of the River and its allies believe that H.R. 1401 is an important step towards protecting public lands in the Ventura-Santa Barbara region, even though it doesn’t include all of the streams and areas included in our comprehensive proposal.
Friends of the River supports H.R. 4109 but is urging Rep. Gallegly to eliminate or at least modify some troubling off-highway vehicle (OHV) and land exchange provisions in the bill. The bill reopens some backcountry roads that have been closed for years to public motorized use to protect cultural and biological resources, and to save public money on costly road maintenance and repair. These backcountry routes are currently open to Forest Service administrative use (for firefighting and law enforcement) and are available for non-motorized public recreation, such as hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting, and fishing. The bill also expands an existing OHV area into currently roadless public lands and proposes construction of new OHV trails, some in sensitive areas.
In addition, H.R. 4109 proposes a land exchange between the Forest Service and the United Water Conservation District. This provision calls for the public to give up more acres of habitat-rich streamside property along lower Piru Creek in exchange for less water district acreage consisting primarily of steep and brushy canyon slopes. While supportive of the bill’s wild river and wilderness protection measures, Friends of the River and its conservation allies oppose the land exchange and some of the OHV provisions.
Although introduction of H.R. 4109 represents an important step forward in the protection of some of the wildest streams and lands in the Ventura-Santa Barbara region, it remains unclear whether there is sufficient time in this election year for the bill to begin moving through Congress.
In the meantime, constituents of Rep. Gallegly (residents of interior Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties) should send an email thanking him for introducing the bill, supporting the Wild & Scenic Rivers and Wilderness additions, but opposing the bill provisions expanding OHV use and calling for an unequal land exchange.
Stop The San Joaquin River Destruction Bill! By Steve Evans, Wild & Scenic Project Coordinator
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A Big Win For Yuba River Fish! By Steve Evans, Wild & Scenic Project Coordinator
In 2006, Friends of the River and the South Yuba River Citizens League sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) over the agency’s inadequate protection measures for threatened Central Valley spring Chinook salmon, steelhead, and green sturgeon in the Yuba River. Last year, a federal court judge ruled in our favor and directed NMFS to produce a new biological opinion under the Endangered Species Act to fully protect the listed fish species. Last week, NMFS complied with the court order and released a biological opinion directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take both immediate and long-term steps to reduce the adverse fishery impacts of two Corps dams on the Yuba River.
The Corps constructed and operates the Englebright and Daguerre Point Dams on the Yuba River. These dams were constructed for the primary purpose of capturing debris from destructive hydraulic mining that no longer occurs upstream. Unfortunately, the dams are major impediments to fish migration in the Yuba River. As much as 60% of all salmon and steelhead and 100% of green sturgeon face difficulty negotiating Daguerre Dam’s convoluted fish ladders. And no migratory fish can make their way past the 260 foot-high Englebright Dam upstream. Englebright also prevents the downstream recruitment of essential fish spawning gravel.
The new biological opinion from the NMFS requires the Corps to annually introduce spawning gravel into the Yuba River below Englebright Dam and implement a program by 2020 that will provide passage for salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon around both dams. Dams creating permanent barriers to fish migration is considered one of the primary reasons why Central Valley salmon, steelhead, and green sturgeon have declined towards extinction. Providing fish passage could mean eventual removal of one or both of the dams, or at least improvements of Daguerre’s existing fish ladders and perhaps a “trap and haul” program to ensure passage of adult and young fish around the much higher Englebright Dam.
Tell Secretary Salazar: Remove Klamath Dams By Alexandra Borack, Conservation Advocate
Now is your time to act on the Klamath! Since 2002, the Klamath River has faced unprecedented challenges: a major fish die-off of fall-run Chinook salmon (at least 30,000 fish), toxic algae in the dam reservoirs with a hazardous decline in water quality, and the closing of the commercial salmon harvest along the Northern California coast. While there have been actions to provide temporary relief from or mitigation for the damage to the ecosystem, there can be no real solution for the Klamath Basin until the dams are removed and the river is restored to its free-flowing river condition. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is a key decision-maker for the Klamath River. He must make a decision by March 31 that it is in the public interest to remove the Klamath River dams. TAKE ACTION
House has yet to move on Merced bill - please take action! By Ron Stork, Senior Policy Advocate
The Republican dominated House Natural Resources Committee approved several bills that weaken federal protection for the Merced Wild River and other rivers in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. The Committee approved by a party-line voice vote Rep. Jeff Denham’s bill – H.R. 2578 – which adjusts the boundary of the Merced Wild River to allow for possible expansion of the New Exchequer Reservoir.
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Bad Nunes Water Bill Approved By The House By Steve Evans, Wild & Scenic Project Coordinator
A controversial bill prohibiting implementation of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, weaken state water rights, and override state environmental laws has passed the House of the Representatives and now heads to the U.S. Senate. Introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes, H.R. 1837 was approved 246 to 175 in a largely partisan vote in the Republican-dominated House. The bill now goes to the Senate, where California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have expressed concerns about its many controversial provisions. Concerned river advocates should send emails to Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer urging them to reject H.R. 1837 and stating strong support for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program and state water rights and environmental laws.
Background: The dams and canals of the federal government’s massive Central Valley Project (CVP) allowed farmers to grow crops in the desert, but it also dried up the San Joaquin River (the state’s 2nd largest river), pushed California’s salmon and steelhead to the brink of extinction, drowned some of the state’s wildest river canyons under still reservoirs, polluted ground and surface water throughout the valley, and degraded the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
In 1992, Congress moved to remedy this environmental injustice with the passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA). The CVPIA for the first time dedicated some federal water in California for fish and wildlife purposes and established a program to restore endangered salmon and steelhead in the Central Valley.
A subsequent landmark federal court ruling and settlement that required the restoration of flows in a segment of the San Joaquin River dewatered by agricultural diversions has worked in tandem with the CVPIA to secure modest restoration of river flows and initial recovery of fish species in the Central Valley. But now Fresno-area Representative Devin Nunes and other members of Congress in the pocket of corporate irrigators are attempting to roll back these important conservation measures with H.R. 1837, the so-called “Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act.”
In a brazen effort to prioritize and increase federal water deliveries to a relative handful of corporate irrigators in the southern Central Valley, H.R. 1837 overturns the public trust provisions of the California Constitution, usurps state water rights authority, threatens federal water deliveries to family farmers in the Delta and northern Central Valley, rolls back CVPIA measures to restore river flows that benefit salmon and steelhead (which also benefits the state’s commercial and sport fishing industries), and ends implementation of the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Agreement.
If passed by Congress, the bill would trample the right of California to manage its water, push salmon and steelhead into extinction, steal public water from north valley farmers, likely increase federal diversions of fresh water from the fragile Delta and harm flows in the Sacramento and American Rivers, and literally dry up the restored segment of the San Joaquin River.
Some of the worst provisions of H.R. 1837 include:
Tramples States Rights: H.R. 1837 overturns the public trust provisions of the California Constitution by prohibiting the state from conditioning water rights to protect fish and wildlife species. It exempts CVP operations from state permits and environmental law. It also allows the Interior Secretary to ignore fish and wildlife protection recommendations from the California Department of Fish and Game and overrules state authority to manage non-native fish that may prey upon native fish. It also overrules the authority of federal courts to temporarily halt water deliveries that may be subject to federal judicial review.
Gives Environmental Water Back To Corporate Irrigators, Promotes New Dams, and Increases Delta Diversions: H.R. 1837 requires CVPIA water dedicated to fish and wildlife be replaced and provided to CVP water contractors and it adds new surface water supply projects (dams) to the list of options to be considered by the Interior Secretary to replace CVPIA fish and wildlife water. Further the bill guarantees full contract deliveries to these junior contractors for life. As a consequence, it takes water away from north valley farmers and increases federal diversions of fresh water from the environmentally fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It also extends the renewal of environmentally harmful CVP contracts to 40 years and mandates they be renewed in perpetuity
Harms Endangered Salmon & Steelhead: H.R. 1837 limits CVPIA direction to provide reasonable flows for fish and wildlife and suspends CVPIA-mandated fish and wildlife restoration actions until water deliveries to CVP contractors are fully restored. The bill also prohibits the Interior Secretary from mitigating or imposing CVPIA protection measures on water transfers and directs the Interior Secretary to ignore science and not distinguish between naturally spawned and hatchery salmon and steelhead in regard to federal and state Endangered Species Act listings and protection.
Rolls Back The Restoration Of The San Joaquin River: H.R. 1837 orders the Interior Secretary to cease implementation of the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Agreement, which is required by federal law in response to a federal court judgement (after 18 years of litigation). As a result of the settlement, the river in 2009 began to once again flow its entire length from Friant Dam to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Ceasing implementation of the settlement will allow the river to be dried up again by agribusiness diversions and this key effort to provide permanent flows and restore endangered spring Chinook salmon in the San Joaquin River will simply cease.