Conservation and fishermen's groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday in California Superior Court seeking to force state and regional water boards to implement existing clean water laws in the wild rivers and streams of the state's North Coast region.
The groups argue that only cleaner waters will enable the recovery of endangered salmon species.
For decades, water quality in North Coast river and streams has been degraded by sediment, nutrients, high temperatures, low dissolved oxygen levels, and turbidity. These pollutants are the result of dam construction, water diversions, urban development, agriculture, logging, mining, and grazing.
The declining river and stream conditions have impacted the survival of regional salmon species, including chinook salmon, coho salmon, and Northern California steelhead, which are now listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Last year, the collapse of salmon stocks on the west coast caused the first ever complete shutdown of the commercial salmon fishing season.
The action plans at issue are part of the Clean Water Act's Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL, program. A TMDL is the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive in 24 hours and still meet water quality standards.
The program first requires the agencies to identify and maintain a list of impaired rivers and streams and submit that list to the U.S. EPA for approval.
The agencies must then assess the sources of pollution causing the violations, set TMDL limits for these sources, and develop action plans to achieve the standards.
But except for Garcia River, Scott River, and Shasta River, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the State Water Resources Control Board have failed to prepare action plans as required by the state Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act and the federal Clean Water Act.
In their complaint, the groups recognize that the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, has suffered from deep cuts in staffing and funding for clean water programs.