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Hearing Finally Scheduled on CSPA's Big Sur River Protest
by Dan Bacher
Tuesday Dec 28th, 2010 8:15 AM
"The Big Sur River is designated as Critical Habitat for steelhead under the federal Endangered Species Act," said Bill Jennings, chairman/executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. "The hearing will provide a critical opportunity to restore flow, water quality and habitat for these endangered species."

Photo of pool in the Big Sur River Gorge by Margie Whitnah.
gorgepool.low.jpg
Hearing Finally Scheduled on CSPA's Big Sur River Protest

by Dan Bacher

After 20 years, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has finally scheduled a hearing on March 8 and 9, 2011 regarding a protest by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) of El Sur Ranch's water right application on the Big Sur River.

The scenic Central Coast river arises in the peaks of the Santa Lucia Mountains in the Ventana Wilderness of Monterey County. The river is legendary for the beautiful steelhead trout that have spawned in its clear, pristine waters for thousands of years. However, the run has declined in recent years, due to water diversions by the El Sur Ranch and other factors.

"In 1990, El Sur Ranch was caught illegally diverting from the river and subsequently, in 1992, filed an application for a water right to continue diversions that have, at times, literally dried up reaches of the river," said Bill Jennings, CSPA chairman/executive director. "CSPA and the Department of Fish and Game protested the application."

El Sur Ranch is a working cattle operation located on the Pacific coast in Monterey County, approximately 25 miles south of Monterey, according to the SWRCB. The ranch is located west of Highway 1 adjacent to Andrew Molera State Park and has been in operation at this location for more than 150 years.

A Draft Environmental Impact Report of the proposed diversion was prepared in 2009, according to Jennings. CSPA and the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Friends of the River, Ventana Wilderness Alliance and Los Padres Forest Watch joined in submitting extensive comments on the EIR.

"Finally, after almost two decades of illegal diversions, the SWRCB has scheduled an evidentiary hearing (i.e., testimony under oath, cross examination and rebuttal) in the matter," Jennings emphasized.

The deadline for the Notice of Intent to Appeal is 14 January. Testimony and exhibits must be submitted by 7 February.

"The Big Sur River is designated as Critical Habitat for steelhead under the federal Endangered Species Act," said Jennings. "The hearing will provide a critical opportunity to restore flow, water quality and habitat for these endangered species."

Jennings said the key issues of the hearing are:

* Is water available for appropriation under the application? If so, when is water available and under what circumstances, taking into consideration prior rights? What terms and conditions, if any, should the State Water Board adopt to protect prior rights?

* Will approval of the application result in any significant adverse impacts to water quality, the environment, or public trust resources? What terms and conditions, if any, should the State Water Board adopt to avoid or mitigate any such potential adverse impacts?

* Will the water be put to reasonable and beneficial use? Is the proposed appropriation in the public interest? If the State Water Board approves the application, what terms and conditions, if any, should the board adopt to ensure that the diversions are in accordance with applicable law and best serve the public interest? What terms and conditions, if any, should the State Water Board adopt to prevent the waste, unreasonable use, unreasonable method of use, or unreasonable method of diversion of water?

* Should the State Water Board subordinate the priority of the Ranch's Application 30166 to Clear Ridge's Application 30946? Would reversal of priority be in keeping with state policy regarding domestic use and serve the public interest?

Jennings and other fish advocates regard the hearing as a crucial step in the restoration of this river and its wild steelhead.

The Hearing will commence on Tuesday, March 8, 2011, at 9:00 a.m. and continue, if necessary, on Wednesday, March 9, 2011, at 9:00 a.m.
in the Coastal Hearing Room of the Joe Serna, Jr. Cal/EPA Building, 1001 I Street, Second Floor, Sacramento, CA.

Notices of Intent to Appear, written testimony, and other exhibits submitted to the State Water Board should be addressed as follows:
Division of Water Rights, State Water Resources Control Board, Attention: Paul Murphey, P.O. Box 2000, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000, Phone: (916) 341-5435, Fax: (916) 341-5400, Email: wrhearing [at] waterboards.ca.gov - With Subject of “Big Sur River Hearing.”

The Big Sur and Little Sur rivers were celebrated in the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. In his poem "Ruth Allison," Jeffers says:

Two waters of the Santa Lucian hills,
Beautiful streams, were named in the elder tongue
The southern rivers: el Sur Chiquito one;
The larger and more southern el Sur Grande.
These elder names our later language turns
Into the Little Sur, and Big Sur
Most beautiful both streams; and both to me,
In memory of the day when first beheld,
Are sacred waters.

Founded in 1983, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was formed to "protect, restore and enhance the state’s fishery resources and the aquatic ecosystems they depend on to ensure this renewable public resource is conserved for the public’s use and that of future generations."

Over the past twenty years, the organization has filed several hundred protests with the State Water Resources Control Board against detrimental water quality conditions, as well as deleterious water rights applications and decisions, to assure that adequate amounts of good quality water stay in our rivers, streams, and estuaries. "These efforts have directly benefited more than a hundred rivers, streams, and watersheds in California and have resulted in substantial improvements in flow and better in-stream habitat for fish and wildlife," according to Jennings.

For more information, contact:
Bill Jennings, Chairman/Executive Director
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
3536 Rainier Avenue
Stockton, CA 95204
p: 209-464-5067
c: 209-938-9053
f: 209-464-1028
e: deltakeep [at] aol.com
http://www.calsport.org
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correctionlocFriday Dec 31st, 2010 7:03 PM

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