Trinity Journal: Coalition wants further review on river projects   

Coalition wants further review on river projects

Amy Gittelsohn The Trinity Journal | Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 6:15 am

A coalition of environmental groups, fishing guides and landowners along the Trinity River have formally requested that two proposed channel rehabilitation projects be mothballed until fuller environmental studies are done.

“The environmental document for the Bucktail and Lower Junction City Trinity River mainstem rehabilitation projects is inadequate,” the letter to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and Trinity River Restoration Program states.

Signers of the letter ask that a full Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report be prepared to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and California Environmental Quality Act.

The restoration program projects they cite in Lewiston and Lower Junction City include in-river work to increase salmon and steelhead habitat by creating slow-water refuge areas and work to allow the river to spread onto its floodplain. The project at Bucktail in Lewiston would include a side channel and placement of habitat features including logjams.

The Lower Junction City project is proposed for construction in 2014, while the Bucktail project could be scheduled for 2015.

Signers of the letter include the California Water Impact Network, the Trinity River Guide Association, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, AquAlliance, Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment, Environmental Protection Information Center, North Coast Environmental Center, Trinity Fly Shop, Environmental Water Caucus, Butte Environmental Council, Trinity Lake Revitalization Alliance, Friends of the Eel River, six guide services and several individuals living by the river.

They contend the projects deviate substantially from what was covered in the Trinity River Record of Decision, whereas the watershed component of that decision has not been fully implemented.

For example, the letter states that no more than three side channels were considered in the Record of Decision, but many more than that have been built. Engineered logjams also have not been adequately evaluated, signers of the letter say.

From the Trinity Management Council that decides on which projects go forward, Executive Director Brian Person said a master EIS/EIR produced for the program in 2009 “takes into account environmental considerations for a suite of projects.”

That is followed by an environmental analysis for each project to address specifics, he said, adding it is a common approach to multi-year activities all planned along the same theme and meets NEPA and CEQA requirements.

Still, Person said the requests in the letter will be considered.

“The program and other agency partners have more work to do before we decide what to do with that comment,” he said.

The letter says past projects have caused “increased river turbidity, reduced public access, reduced adult salmonid holding habitat, filling of pools, impairment of river navigation, spreading of noxious weeds, noise, truck traffic and damage to agricultural water supplies.”

The letter also quotes sections of a draft report from a Science Advisory Board that evaluated the first phase of projects on the river, finding among other things that “increases in juvenile rearing habitat were not statistically significant” from channel rehabilitation projects.

Person and restoration program Executive Director Robin Schrock debate how that draft report has been characterized, although Person acknowledged that at just past the halfway point “the interim results the Science Advisory Board states, no, those aren’t the incremental numbers we’d hoped for by now.”

However, he and Schrock noted that draft report only takes into account habitat created during base flows on the river.

“As far as the fish population numbers,” Schrock said, “there have only been two cohort returns that have spawned and reared in the river since those projects were begun in 2005.”

The letter signers also say that the Bucktail Bridge, at risk of failure due to the higher Trinity River flows called for in the Record of Decision, should be replaced before a rehabilitation project is constructed there.

They oppose approval of the projects until an EIS/EIR has been prepared following completion of the Science Advisory Board’s review and at least two annual releases from Lewiston Dam of 10,000 cubic feet per second or more.

Flows that high are called for in the Record of Decision only in extremely wet years, although in some years the flow schedule has been modified for research purposes.

“Important work need not stop because the Bucktail and Lower Junction City projects do not move forward at this time,” the letter states. “We support replacement of the Bucktail Bridge and an accelerated watershed restoration program as high priority projects with broad public support that fit within the existing Trinity River Restoration Program framework.”