June 8, 2015
Matthias St. John Executive Officer
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
Re: Comments on Draft Order R1-2015-0023, Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements and General Water Quality Certification for Discharges of Waste Resulting from Marijuana Cultivation and Associated Activities or Operations with Similar Environmental Effects in the North Coast Region
Dear Mr. St John,
The following comments are offered on behalf of the board, staff, and supporters of Friends of the Eel River. FOER advocates for the protection and restoration of our Wild and Scenic Eel River, with a focus on the fisheries that are the keystone of ecosystem health in our watershed.
Although we are unable to support the proposed program in its current form, we do very much appreciate the Regional Board staff’s thoughtful and realistic approach to the complex problems raised by the increasing and severe watershed and fisheries impacts associated with marijuana cultivation in the Eel River watershed and across the North Coast. The proposed waiver is an important step in the right direction. That it is not adequate to fulfill the Board’s duty to protect water quality and beneficial uses is largely a consequence of the agency’s lack of capacity to implement and enforce it.
As the Draft Waiver accurately notes, increased marijuana cultivation throughout the North Coast Region since passage of Prop 215 and AB 420, but especially over the last decade, “has resulted in significant waste discharges and a loss of instream flows associated with improper development of rural landscapes on privately-owned parcels, and the diversion of springs and streams, to the cumulative detriment of beneficial uses of water.” Even this alarming summary may understate the magnitude and severity of our present challenges. The ongoing boom in the number and size of marijuana cultivation operations, and accompanying increases in stream diversions and sediment inputs, has overlapped, for the last four years, with our historically unprecedented severe drought. The result has been the loss of critically important year-classes of coho salmon and steelhead in streams in the Eel River watershed that have been the focus of fisheries restoration efforts for decades, a dramatic setback for the hope of coho recovery not just in the Eel but across the region.