Friends of the Eel River Notifies Humboldt County of Intent to Sue
Conservation group demands Humboldt County protect fisheries and other public trust values in the lower Eel River
Friends of the Eel River, a Eureka-based citizens’ group dedicated to protecting and restoring Eel River fisheries, has sent a formal letter to Humboldt County demanding it move to protect fisheries and other public trust values in the lower Eel River from groundwater pumping that lowers surface flows in the river.
“Humboldt County’s recently submitted Groundwater Sustainability Plan appears to be an attempt to prevent regulation of groundwater pumping in the lower river, at the expense of Eel River fish,” said Friends of the Eel River Executive Director Alicia Hamann. “But the county’s own data shows well pumping is pulling water out of the Eel River’s flows. In dry, hot years like those we’ve been seeing recently and expect to continue, groundwater pumping in the lower Eel River basin is reducing surface flows, and even leading to the lower river entirely disconnecting.”
The lower Eel River includes groundwater dependent ecosystems, providing habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species. In particular, it serves as critical habitat for Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead. The County’s data indicates that during periods of low flow, groundwater pumping can reduce surface flows, which inhibits salmonid migration and degrades water quality.
“The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the federal National Marine Fisheries Service have emphasized in their warnings to the county that pumping-induced loss of flows in the lower river is harming not just adult Chinook salmon seeking to migrate upriver in early fall, but juvenile salmon and steelhead in the river in the summer,” said Scott Greacen, Conservation Director for Friends of the Eel River. “Harm to fish listed under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts are textbook harms to public trust values.”
“Under California law, counties must consider impacts on public trust values, before allowing actions that can harm those values,” Greacen noted. “As well, California courts have also affirmed that the duty to protect the public trust in groundwater connected to surface flows is separate from, and not satisfied by, the responsibilities imposed by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.”
FOER states they intend to seek a court order requiring the County prepare a management plan to protect surface flows – and a halt to new well drilling – in the lower Eel River basin until the plan is approved.