Letter of Support for Coastal Conservancy’s Certification of Final EIR: Eel River Estuary and Centerville Slough Enhancement Project

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

California State Coastal Conservancy
1515 Clay Street, 10th Floor
Oakland CA 94612

RE: Friends of the Eel River Letter of Support for the State Coastal Conservancy’s Certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report: Eel River Estuary and Centerville Slough Enhancement Project SCH#: 2014122040

Dear Coastal Conservancy staff et al;

Friends of the Eel River recommends the Conservancy certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the Eel River Estuary and Centerville Slough Enhancement Project.

The Eel River represents perhaps our greatest opportunity on the West Coast to restore salmon and steelhead populations to ecologically functional levels – which itself will be essential to recovering the health of both the river ecosystem and of the watershed’s magnificent forests.

The conversion of most of the Eel River’s lower estuary to agricultural production was one of the most destructive blows to the river’s ability to produce fish. The Eel River Estuary is recognized as one of the most ecologically important tidal marsh habitats in California. It is the third largest estuary in the State and, along with Humboldt Bay, the only substantial tidal marsh habitat between San Francisco and Coos Bay.

This landscape was drained for agricultural uses over 150 years ago and isolated from the Eel River and saline waters by tidegates and levees. Today, fish migratory access to any remaining aquatic habitats within the 1,850 acre Project footprint to the south of the tidegate and levee system, as well as habitats in the watersheds south of the Project, have been entirely blocked to many of California’s native fish species. These include three salmonid species federally listed as Threatened: Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead; coastal cutthroat trout (a California state species of concern); the tidewater goby (federally listed as endangered) and many estuarine-dependent species, including green sturgeon, Starry flounder, Pacific herring, English sole, and Dungeness crab.

As well, Public Trust lands including stream and slough channels, tidal marshes and seasonal wetlands and riverine floodplains have been severely degraded by cattle grazing. This degradation of Public Trust lands includes the formerly navigable Centerville Slough which was eliminated across more than 8,000 feet of pasture lands south of Cutoff Slough; historically provided migratory passage and critical habitat for the four native salmon and trout species. Water quality has been severely degraded as a result of the prevention of saline and brackish estuarine waters, from cattle pasture runoff, and from sedimentation of stream and slough channels from the surrounding land uses. Entire vegetation communities within the project footprint have been reduced or eliminated to make way for cattle ranching, including native dune communities, riparian woodlands, brackish marsh and salt marsh habitats; non-native invasive species such as Spartina and Ammophila have colonized native habitats; these changes have in turn impacted the wildlife species dependent upon these vegetation communities.

The key project elements of upgraded tidegates to allow fish passage; expansion of aquatic habitat; restoration of major slough and creek channels; and dune enhancement will benefit continued agricultural land uses while providing important aquatic habitat restoration and fish passage.The restoration effort to which the Eel River Estuary and
Centerville Slough Enhancement Project is central is thus a vital step toward recovery of critical ecosystem functions in the Eel River. Its proponents have gone to great lengths to satisfy the concerns of adjacent landowners. Unfortunately, those neighbors do not appear to have reciprocated those good faith efforts. Nonetheless, the EIR provides the flexibility for surrounding landowners to join the project if they come to their senses in the future. Friends of the Eel River strongly supports the adoption of the FEIR for this important project that achieves habitat restoration and working lands protection.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Scott Greacen
Executive Director
Friends of the Eel River