Conservation Groups Forced to Sue in Defense of Salmon Recovery Site
Lagunitas Creek and Tomales Bay – site of arguably California’s premier coho salmon and steelhead recovery project – face threat of being dried up by new water diversions for ag and municipal use
4/26/2002 -- Albany, Calif. -- Trout Unlimited’s North Bay Chapter, along with the Tomales Bay Association, today filed suit in California State Superior Court to protect salmon and steelhead from water use modifications sought by North Marin Water District that would allow increased water diversions from Lagunitas Creek, site of critical habitat and a successful recovery project for imperiled coho salmon and steelhead trout.
North Marin Water District, in seeking a change of purpose and place of use for its water right to Lagunitas Creek, argued that it was exempt from the normal channels of application for such change, namely the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A review under CEQA to modify the water right would involve an assessment of environmental impact and reasonable mitigation measures for any such impacts. The District’s reasoning for their CEQA exemption was that they are absolutely certain their proposed water right modification would have no significant impact to the surrounding environment. Trout Unlimited and Tomales Bay Association disagree.
“We’ve gone through the customary channels with the District in order to avoid a lawsuit, without success,” said TU’s Chuck Bonham, citing letters and conversations urging the District to undergo CEQA review. “They now appear determined to stick to their story that there is absolutely no way modifying their water right may have an impact on ESA-listed fish in Lagunitas Creek, and that’s simply wrong. Legal action is the only card left to play.”
Bonham noted that the proposed diversions would likely take place in dry months, just when spawning fish need adequate water levels most.
Lagunitas Creek historically hosted robust coho and steelhead runs. However, years of habitat degradation from overgrazing and erosion whittled those runs to a fraction of their historical abundance. The creek is the main tributary into Tomales Bay, a critical staging area for out-migrating coho and steelhead smolts as they transition into a salt-water environment. The watershed is home to Endangered Species Act-listed Central California Coast coho and steelhead stocks.
Trout Unlimited has been involved in salmon and steelhead recovery projects in the Lagunitas Creek watershed since 1982. During that span, the creek and its critical spawning habitat have seen remarkable improvement, as have the salmon and steelhead runs. Today, the Lagunitas Creek drainage is host to over 10 percent of the endangered short-run coastal coho. Tomales Bay Association has organized and conducted habitat improvement and monitoring programs in the watershed since 1986.
“The action proposed by North Marin Water District is not simply benignly moving water from one place to another,” said Bonham. “The presence of ESA-listed fish in the Lagunitas Creek watershed to us indicates that any possibility of diverting any more water from there is an action deserving of - at the very least - a closer look, and the law provides for that. That closer look is all we’re seeking.”
Trout Unlimited is a non-profit national salmon, trout and steelhead conservation organization with over 125,000 members in North America. Tomales Bay Association is a local non-profit organization with over 400 members.
For more information: Ken Fox, Tomales Bay Association (415) 663-1467