Friends of the Eel River, Humboldt County Agree to Road Fixes to Protect Fisheries and Restore Watersheds

(Eureka, CA) Friends of the Eel River and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors have reached a legal settlement to fund culvert replacements and road repairs in two Southern Humboldt watersheds critical to salmon and steelhead through 2023.

The agreement ends a lawsuit brought by Friends of the Eel River. The environmental group has argued the county has not yet done enough to mitigate watershed impacts of commercial cannabis cultivation in Humboldt’s easily eroded hills. “On behalf of Eel River salmon and steelhead, we are grateful to announce this agreement to reduce sediment impacts,” said Friends of the Eel River Executive Director Alicia Hamann. “This agreement won’t solve all the problems that have built up over decades, but it’s a great place to start.”

“A lot of the conversation around the impacts of the commercial cannabis industry has focused on water diversions and the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Those are important issues,” said Scott Greacen, FOER’s Conservation Director. “But overall, roughly 90% of the impacts of Humboldt’s pot industry on salmon and steelhead come from sediment – from too much dirt coming off our roads and getting in our creeks.”

Under the agreement, Humboldt County will invest an initial $1.1 million in a fund to finance culvert replacements and road repairs in the Redwood Creek and Sprowel Creek watersheds. Through 2023, the fund will also receive 20% of fines and penalties collected by the county in cannabis enforcement. The fund will make grants to “sediment reduction programs associated with roads serving cannabis cultivation sites. Grants shall be awarded to fund improvements to public and private road improvement projects undertaken with the specific purpose of protecting water quality in streams, creeks and rivers. At least eighty percent (80%) of funds shall be used for actual road improvements.”

The Redwood and Sprowel Creek drainages are critical refugia for salmonid species including chinook, steelhead, and coho. Conservationists are especially concerned with declining coho populations. Coho, or silver, salmon are particularly vulnerable to freshwater impacts.