Sacramento - The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (CVRWQCB) voted unanimously yesterday evening to issue a Cleanup and Abatement Order (CAO) to El Dorado County and the Eldorado National Forest for sediment, petroleum products and human waste on the world-famous Rubicon Trail. The CAO follows years of failure by the two agencies to address increasing damage by thousands of off-road vehicles that use the Rubicon Trail every year.
A Draft CAO was issued to El Dorado County in February. The Eldorado National Forest was added to the draft order last month, when the County denied any responsibility for maintenance of the trail, despite their claim that the iconic trail is a county road. The County, which has received approximately $2 million in State grants to develop a management plan and maintain the trail, abandoned its effort to adopt that plan in 2007, claiming it can’t afford to manage the trail. It said it would depend instead on volunteers.
For years the two agencies have each claimed the other was liable; the CAO requires to the Forest Service and Eldorado County to determine their respective responsibilities for cleaning up and managing the trail. Environmentalists and sport fishing organizations applauded the Order. Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation said, “The ‘Crown Jewel of off-roading lost its sparkle years ago; the Cleanup and Abatement Order is what was needed to get these two agencies to stop pointing their fingers at each other and begin to clean up the mess out there.”
“It was the worst unchecked erosion I've seen in my 37-year career with the Forest Service," testified Rich Platt, a retired Eldorado National Forest Resource Officer, of erosion he witnessed along the Rubicon Trail.
The presentation by the Water Board prosecution staff yesterday included stark evidence of severe erosion, sediment into native trout streams, petroleum products staining granite slabs and pooled in sediments. Most disturbing was the evidence of human waste that litters the area, and makeshift toilets on stream banks. The popular Spider Lake camping area was closed in 2004 by the County Health Department and Eldorado National Forest, due to the health hazard posed by human feces. There are still no county or forest service toilet facilities along the length of the trail, and efforts to get users to voluntarily “pack it out”, using free Wag Bags provided by the county, have largely failed.
David Lass of Trout Unlimited praised the Water Board action. “The diligent work of the CVRWQCB staff and vision of the Board to unanimously adopt the CAO yesterday is both applauded and commended by California sportsmen and women. There is no doubt this was a divisive and emotional issue, but the Board made the right decision yesterday, a decision that will provide the motivation and framework necessary to correct conditions on the Rubicon. This action is considered a huge victory for the wild and native trout that depend on clean water in the Upper Middle Fork American River watershed.”
“It’s about time OHV recreation is held to the same water quality standards as other uses on our public lands,” noted Monte Hendricks, a local fly-fisherman who sits on the Rubicon Oversight Committee. “They’ve gotten a free pass for polluting for far too long.”