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Elk River TMDL

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) have listed the Elk River watershed under the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) as a sediment-impaired waterbody. Sediment discharges and sedimentation exceed the water quality objectives for sediment, suspended material, settleable matter, and turbidity resulting in adverse impact to several beneficial uses, including domestic water supplies (MUN), agricultural water supplies (AGR), cold water habitat (COLD); spawning, reproduction and early development (SPWN); rare, threatened, or endangered species (RARE), and recreation (REC-1 and REC-2). Sedimentation has also resulted in conditions of nuisance, including elevated rates of annual flooding, loss of property, loss of use of property, loss of access to property, and risk to human health and welfare.

A program has been developed to recover 303(d) List waterbodies via the establishment of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL). At this time, Regional Water Board staff is in the process of developing a TMDL for sediment for the Upper Elk River in the Elk River watershed, including the reach of river most severely impacted by sedimentation. The purpose of a sediment TMDL for the upper Elk River is to establish the river's capacity to transport sediment loads while meeting water quality standards and restoring beneficial uses of the upper watershed. Regional Water Board staff is developing the sediment TMDL by assessing and quantifying sources of sediment, developing indicators of hillslope stability and stream channel recovery, and establishing the sediment load reductions that are necessary to meet water quality standards. Simultaneously, staff is revising the current program of water quality control now implemented in the Upper Elk River watershed to reflect the findings of the TMDL

Sediment discharge and sedimentation in the Lower Elk River watershed will be assessed as part of a separate project.

October 21, 2015

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made available to the Regional Water Board, technical assistance through their contract with Tetra Tech, Inc. to review and assess all the existing Elk River Watershed sediment related information, including:

  1. Peer Review Draft Staff Report to Support the Technical Sediment TMDL for the Upper Elk River, March 4, 2013 (Peer Review Draft Staff Report, see link below);
  2. Scientific peer review (see link below) and informal public review (see link below) comments on the Peer Review Draft Staff Report;
  3. Staff responses to scientific peer review comments (see link below) and informal public review comments (link not yet available);
  4. Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) submissions; and,
  5. Staff's revised approach for establishing a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and program of implementation for the Upper Elk River Watershed.

Tetra Tech, Inc. has synthesized this information and produced a technical report, which represents a comprehensive assessment of sediment conditions and associated beneficial uses in the Elk River Watershed, and presents the best available and relevant science. Tetra Tech (2015) describes the Elk River Watershed setting, the applicable regulatory framework, and desired watershed conditions. It further documents the sediment impairments, identifies and quantifies the sources of excess sediment, and estimates the sediment loading capacity of the system, distinguishing between current and future sediment loading capacity. Finally, the report proposes a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for sediment as supported by the existing data, as well as a framework for implementation, monitoring, and adaptive management.

May 7, 2014 Regional Water Board Workshop

There will be an informational workshop to update the Board, responsible parties and other interested persons on the development of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and the Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR) for the control of nonpoint source waste discharges from timberlands in the Upper Elk River watershed. No formal action will be taken by the Board as this workshop. This is an opportunity for affected parties and interested stakeholders to address the Regional Water Board members and for the Board to provide policy direction to staff to inform the strategy for implementing the TMDL/WDR. The Executive Officer's Summary Report and the Workshop Agenda describes material to be covered at the workshop. The workshop will be held from 1:00-5:00 P.M., Wednesday, May 07, 2014 at the River Lodge Conference Center located at 1800 Riverwalk Drive in Fortuna, California.

Peer Review Draft Staff Report to Support the Technical Sediment Total Maximum Daily Load for the Upper Elk River and Associated Documents

Staff of the Regional Water Board developed the Peer Review Draft Staff Report to Support the Technical Sediment Total Maximum Daily Load for the Upper Elk River (Peer Review Draft Staff Report). Working with the Cal/EPA Scientific Peer Review Program, the Peer Review Draft Staff Report has undergone external scientific peer review of the scientific portions of the assertions, findings, and conclusions, including the soundness of the scientific knowledge, methods, and practices as presented in the Peer Review Draft Staff Report.

Links to the Peer Review Draft Staff Report, a cover letter describing its context in the TMDL development process, the peer review comments, and staff responses to those comments are provided below. While staff welcomes informal comments from interested parties on the Peer Review Draft Staff Report and the Response to Comments, no formal public comment period will be initiated at this stage in the process.

Over the coming months, staff will be working on revising the Peer Review Draft Staff Report for release in spring 2014 as the Public Review Draft TMDL Staff Report by:

  • Making revisions in response to the peer review comments, consistent with the revisions identified in the Response to Comments;
  • Developing more completely the implementation and monitoring chapters; and
  • Making revisions to support the adoption of an implementation program as described in the cover letter and Response to Comments.

Concurrently, staff will begin the development of the draft Upper Elk WDR, the regulatory vehicle to control, prevent, and remediate the discharge of sediment from timber operations and associated activities in the Upper Elk River watershed. The Upper Elk WDR will be based on the fundamental scientific findings associated with the load allocations, targets, and implementation framework in the Peer Review Draft Staff Report. The implementation and monitoring chapters of the Public Review Draft TMDL Staff Report will be drafted consistent with development of the draft Upper Elk WDR. The draft Upper Elk WDR is scheduled for release at the same time as the Public Review Draft TMDL Staff Report in spring 2014.

Upper Elk River TMDL Peer Review Documents:

Curriculum Vitaes of Peer Reviewers:

Informal Comment Letters on the Peer Review Package:

As a result of staff outreach on the Peer Review Draft TMDL Staff Report, several written comment letters have been received; staff will consider the comments in its revisions but generally will not be providing written response to each. Upon release of a Public Review Draft TMDL Staff Report, a formal public comment period will be held; staff will respond to comments received during that public comment period. The informal written comments received on the Peer Review Draft TMDL Staff Report are provided here, in the order received:

November 16, 2013 Elk River Forum Sponsored by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors

On November 16, 2013, the Humboldt County Supervisors sponsored an Elk River Forum, in coordination with Friends of Elk River, and Redwood Community Action Agency. The Elk River Forum was held in response to a petition brought to the Supervisors by Elk River residents. Multiple speakers were arrayed and responded to questions from a panel. Panel members were: Kristi Wrigley (North Fork resident and apple farmer), Jesse Noell (South Fork resident), Scott Sherman (Berta Road, Mainstem resident), John Estevo (Mainstem Elk River dairyman), Mike Miles (Humboldt Redwood Company), and Gary Rynearson (Green Diamond Resource Company). Speakers included: Adona White (North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board), Jack Lewis (Hydrologic Statistician), Jessica Hall (Humboldt Bay Keeper), Jim Robbins (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection), Darren Mierau (California Trout), and Greg Blomstrom (Baldwin, Blomstrom, Wilkinson and Associates, Inc.). The audience included Elk River residents, two Humboldt County supervisors, environmental advocates, resource specialists, and representatives of public agencies. Links to the presentations made at the Elk River Forum are included below.

Participants generated a list some Desired Outcomes resulting from watershed TMDL and other watershed recovery efforts.

May 2, 2013 Regional Water Board Information Item on Upper Elk TMDL Development

On May 2, 2013, during the Regional Water Board meeting in Eureka, there was an informational item on the status of the Upper Elk River Sediment TMDL development. Information related to this item may be found in the Executive Officer's Summary Report and Power Point Presentation.

Elk River Recovery Assessment and Pilot Project Implementation

The Regional Water Board received funding from the State Water Resources Control Board's Cleanup and Abatement Account to conduct the Elk River Recovery Assessment to Restore Beneficial Uses and Abate Nuisance Flooding Conditions (Recovery Assessment) and Sediment Remediation Pilot Project (Pilot Project). The Recovery Assessment is designed to assess the fate and transport of fine sediment in the middle and lower reaches of the Elk River from the top of the depositional reach (upstream of the confluence of the North and South Forks) downstream to Humboldt Bay. The Recovery Assessment project requires the collection of sediment and hydraulic data which will be used to populate hydrodynamic and sediment transport models within which several different remediation scenarios can be tested. The end product of the Recovery Assessment will be a feasibility study report from which a remediation action plan can be developed.

The Pilot Project will involve the mechanical removal of instream sediment from a pre-selected site to monitor and model the site parameters under which mechanical sediment removal successfully contributes to the improvement of stream channel hydrodynamics.

March 15, 2012 Public Workshop

On March 15, 2012 the Regional Water Board held a public workshop on the development of the Sediment TMDL in the Elk River watershed. The purpose of the workshop was to inform the Regional Water Board and public about the status of the Elk River TMDL, discuss related actions that are an outgrowth of the TMDL development, and present a schedule for completion of the draft TMDL and associated Basin Plan amendment. The following links are for materials associated with the workshop:

Elk River Restoration Summit

On February 8 and 9, 2012, staff of the Regional Water Board, in coordination with Redwood Community Action Agency (RCAA) held a public workshop to explore strategies for restoration of the low gradient reaches of Elk River impacted by stored sediment deposits. The primary purpose of this summit was to convene affected landowners, resource agency staff, technical experts, potential funders, and diverse stakeholders to discuss approaches to addressing long-standing channel restoration, excess sediment loads, nuisance flooding, and related issues in the Lower Elk River watershed.

Presentations from the summit include:

CEQA Scoping:

On April 17, 2009, Regional Water Board staff announced the start of the required California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) scoping period for the Elk River Sediment TMDL. On May 20, 2009, Regional Water Board staff held a CEQA scoping meeting in Eureka. The purpose of the CEQA scoping meeting was to describe the Regional Water Board staff’s approach for development of the Elk River Sediment TMDL. Staff provided examples of best management practices (BMPs) that might reasonably be implemented to comply with the sediment TMDL and to seek the public’s input on potential environmental impacts that might result from construction and maintenance of this type of BMPs. The scoping period remained open until June 22, 2009, during which the public was invited to submit additional comments. A summary of the written CEQA Scoping Comments received by Regional Water Board staff are provided below.

CEQA Scoping Documents

CEQA Resources:

Other Available Documents

Mailing Lists

Interested parties who would like to receive email notifications for various North Coast Regional Water Board issues, including the Elk River TMDL, can sign up on the Email List Subscription Form located at:

Contact Information:

Alydda Mangelsdorf, Senior Environmental Scientist
Planning Unit Lead

Clayton Creager, Environmental Program Manager
Watershed Stewardship Coordinator

Updated October 23, 2015