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Re: The System



Thanks to Elaine Weinreb for reminding readers of Elk River's recent history ("The Whole System is Broken," Feb. 16). What she describes is the latest stage of a process which years ago the EPA called "analysis paralysis" — while unsustainable logging continues, our watershed has been studied to death.

The system isn't really broken. What it's doing is the result of decisions made in our state resource agencies. Aside from a few notorious raids by Maxxam in the 1980s, every stage of this disaster has been voted on and approved. There's a reason you might not know this.

CalFire's THPs (Timber Harvest Plans) are written in a language dreamed up in bed with industry, spoken only under the covers. Water Quality's TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) measures sediment with a ruler supplied by industry lawyers and tree experts. Peer-reviewed science is dismissed if it recommends lowering the cut. Idealistic employees and new board members soon learn to get along or get out.

This system is ruled by appointed officials acting on behalf of corporate profit, exactly as described by my upstream neighbors. It works just fine.

There is good argument for splitting CalFire into two agencies, one that manages fire and another that supports healthy forests, not billionaires in San Francisco and Portland.

After more than two decades of their TMDL process, it's clear that the state's Regional Water Quality Control Board also needs to be radically re-imagined and re-organized. Elk River was promised that if we followed the agency's rules, the already ravaged forest could be logged on short-rotation and then restored. That promise is what's broken.

CalTrout has provided a plan. It's time to pay the real costs of logging. Restore Elk River. Abolish NCRWQCB. Restore faith in government.

Jerry Martien, Eureka


As a resident of upper Elk River, I read the recent article about Elk River's chronic dysfunction ("The Whole System is Broken," Feb. 16) with pain. The NCJ printed a similar article about Elk River around five years ago. In 2003, NCJ published another article about the intense flooding and destruction of water supplies here. What's changed in 20 years? Conditions are worse!

Don't be fooled by the Headwaters Forest: It's merely an expensive facade hiding many tens of thousands of acres of cut-over forest and devastated river. For more than 30 years this rapacious logging of Elk River has occurred with the blessings of CDF, Water Quality, county supervisors and the silent public. That's a lot of carbon not sequestered.

In the early 2000s, we residents visited the deputy director of Water Quality in Sacramento, Jonathan Bishop. He agreed that the timber harvest in Elk River was indeed destructive and that residents were unreasonably damaged but he said, "If I try to stop logging in Elk River the governor will come over here and punch my face!"

So when the neighborhood polluter is John Fisher, (who has The Gap, the Oakland A's and Humboldt Redwood Co. among his holdings), there are no remedies. He abruptly cut off our drinking water when our words offended him. We damaged residents are told to shut up and wait another 30 years as Water Quality's bogus stewardship committee produces a colorful brochure costing taxpayers $250,000. If Water Quality was a respectable agency, it would spend that $250,000 to provide residents with water supplies now and hope that later, the glossy brochure will come true.

Thirty years ago, Elk River met the gold standard for water quality: "fishable, swimmable, drinkable." Now it's just deplorable. The system really is broken when resource protection agencies value wealth over health. Future generations can't afford this betrayal, and neither can we today. Elk River is the well-regulated disaster.

Stephanie Bennett, Eureka


As an Elk River inhabitant over the past 25 years, I have learned the hard way that the system is actually not "broken" but in fact is working exactly as our Legislature designed it to work.

This is confirmed both by the immunities granted timber by courts, the "assurances" of the Headwaters deal that the forest could be decimated, and by the "accommodations" given to timber by the Water Board that the river could be filled with sediment.

Timber requires massive amounts of taxpayer subsidies — even CalTrout admits that the taxpayer will be required to hand over a minimum of $52 million to dredge some 640,000 cubic yards of sediment from Elk River over the next 30 years — because our resource protection agencies lack the spine to stand up to tyrants and our leaders love to take hard earned tax dollars and give them to polluters. The perps must pay; why should the victims pay for damage timber created?

The decimation of one of the world's best carbon drawdown systems (the Elk River forest) and the intentional filling of the river channel not only floods Elk River inhabitants, it also helps assure that Eureka, Arcata and Sacramento will sooner be flooded by sea level rises due to the increased radiant forcing of GHGs not naturally drawn down by thriving forests.

In this time of existential threats, we need to adopt and implement comprehensive solutions; please support the formation of the Elk River Community Forest Carbon Drawdown Reserve.

Jesse Noell, Eureka


Elaine Weinreb's recent article about the Elk River watershed, "The Whole System is Broken," did not accurately describe the work California Trout and the water boards are doing to recover the Elk River. It also included erroneous information about the timeline of that work.

CalTrout has partnered with the state and regional water boards to address nuisance flooding, improve water quality and restore fish populations in the Elk River. We led the development of a thorough technical assessment of the problems, a necessary first step to identify appropriate solutions. More recently, the water boards and CalTrout developed a detailed recovery plan, based on (not the same as) the assessment.

The recovery plan requires significant action, and funding, from the water boards. As a nonprofit, CalTrout is limited in what we can do alone. But we have built partnerships with landowners, government agencies and others in this community. We have relied on the best science-based recovery strategies, and we are actively promoting the on-the-ground work. The missing link is the money.

Now is the time for the state to step up and provide funding to recover this watershed and improve water quality, for people and for fish. The work funded to date — the technical assessment and the recovery plan — demonstrate the feasibility and value of this investment, but will only bear fruit if the state puts the plan into action.

We share the frustration Elk River Valley residents feel about poor water quality and the slow pace of progress. We've incorporated the community's vision for this river system into our recovery plan. Our scientific assessment showed what needs to be done and what solutions will be most effective. We are ready to move forward, working in partnership with community members and the water boards, toward a healthy Elk River.

Darren Mierau, Bayside


I appreciate the article by Elaine Weinreb, "The Whole System is Broken," in the Feb. 16 NCJ but it missed the mark. Upper Elk River residents directly below timber property have been knowingly ravaged by sediment from logging for more than 25 years. The problem has been studied to death and a plan has been created. It should not end there. Some residents got clean water via a Regional Water Board Order in 1998 (those withdrawals were from the North Fork Elk River, not the South Fork.) All residents require, deserve and have a right to the quality water we had in 1985 before Maxxam's Pacific Lumber Co. began its siege of rapacious logging. The state has allowed specific preferred neighbors to deposit their sediment pollution on private property without permission. The 100-year FEMA flood level has been raised 5 to 8 feet; residents' domestic/agricultural water is severely degraded; our homes threatened, our farms destroyed; our safety attacked every rainy season, yet there are "no significant adverse effects."

Berta Road residents have also had their access denied by increased flooding. Elk River residents need a human relief plan not only a fish centric recovery plan or just better logging, as has been the regulatory solution for the past 25 years. The technical field studies and data analysis by CalTrout, Northern Hydrology and Stillwater Sciences has been outstanding. Their studies have bolstered our testimony and proven the validity of our statements. The state needs to allocate appropriate monies for actual projects to supply everyone clean water, raise the houses most at risk of severe flooding and fix road access.

Elk River residents need the state to step up and allocate the money required to make our lives whole.

Kristi Wrigley, Eureka

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